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Match Report: Northampton Saints 22 Harlequins 20

06 May 2017
Match Report: Northampton Saints 22 Harlequins 20

Northampton Saints edged Harlequins 22-20 in a pulsating affair at Franklin’s Gardens, but the visitors’ losing bonus point means they finish sixth earning automatic qualification to next season’s European Champions Cup.

Saints needed to beat the London side and deny them a bonus point but Quins held on to clinch sixth while the home side face a qualification play-off.

The sides scored two tries each before the break as they went in level pegging at 17-17 – Joe Marchant and George North exchanging tries shortly before the break.

A Nick Evans penalty kept Saints at arms length for a quarter of the game before replacement Api Ratuniyarawa gave the hosts the lead.

But Quins held out to lose by just two points in a frantic final ten minutes in the East Midlands.

Harlequins started brighter and it was scrum-half Karl Dickson – who replaced injured skipper Danny Care for the game – that got the visitors moving with a deft chip which was taken by winger Tim Visser.

Quins pounded the line with a number of short picks by the forwards until stand-in captain James Horwill crashed through the Saints defence for the opening score.

With so much riding on the game, both sets of forwards were trying their utmost to gain the upper hand and some ferocious hits ensued, Harlequins flanker Luke Wallace had a huge collision with Saints prop Kieran Brookes who knocked on.

Quins piled the pressure on Saints, who looked out of sorts in the early exchanges, and Evans extended their lead to ten after they won a penalty at scrum time.

And then a stroke of genius from Saints fly-half Harry Mallinder, a slightly lofted pass from half-back partner Nic Groom put the playmaker under pressure but Mallinder’s delicate flick inside put the returning George North through a gap and under the sticks to bring the hosts within three.

Returning Frenchman Louis Picamoles carried hard in the Quins 22 after Marland Yarde failed to clear a probing kick.

The No.8 offloaded expertly to Alex Waller who dotted down to give Saints the lead for the first time in the match.

Quins began to purr towards the end of the half when Evans found Wallace with a cross kick and a few phases later Brown came up just yards short before the electric Joe Marchant picked up to scoot over in the corner.

Evans – who had missed with two penalty attempts – showed his composure by slotting from the touchline to give his side a 17-14 lead but his opposite man Mallinder pegged Quins back with penalty of his own as the sides went into the break 17 points apiece.

The Quins fly-half picked up where he left off from the tee and put his side ahead after the break but that would prove his final act of a long and storied career as the Kiwi departed prematurely after failing to shake off an injury.

Charlie Matthews received a yellow card for a deliberate knock on but Quins managed to regain the ball and clear their lines.

Tim Swiel – Evans’ replacement – sliced through the Saints defence and looked to have sidestepped full-back Ahsee Tuala but the Saint just got enough contact to fell the Harlequin.

But Saints made their man advantage count when replacement Ratuniyarawa burrowed over but Mallinder missed a simple conversion as his side led by just two.

And with Saints needing to win by more than seven points to secure sixth, they continued to probe the Quins defence until the last but coughed up the ball for the visitors to send into the stand.

With the sides level on points after 22 Rounds of the regular season, Quins finish sixth by virtue of having more wins to their name.

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