Harry Mallinder’s last-gasp try gave Northampton Saints a vital bonus point 29-23 win over top-four rivals Harlequins at Franklin’s Gardens.
Jim Mallinder’s men move into fourth place after claiming their seventh consecutive win against Harlequins and seriously dented Conor O’Shea’s hopes of making the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals with four rounds to go.
Saints burst into life, scoring two first-half tries through Alex Waller and Courtney Lawes, but Harlequins went in 13-12 ahead at the break through Tim Visser’s superb individual score and Ben Botica’s boot.
Jack Clifford scored immediately after half-time to give the visitor hope, but Northampton motored away through Ben Foden’s wonderfully worked team try and Mallinder’s late score.
George North claimed the game’s first kick-off and powered through two tackles, but Tim Wigglesworth blew in Harlequins’ favour and the visitors were able to relieve early pressure.
George Pisi led the Northampton defensive line superbly, but the outstanding Visser span out of two tackles and made ten metres down the touchline, forcing an error from James Craig and gifting Botica an easy shot at goal, which he duly converted.
The home side roared back into contention a minute later and Luke Wallace was penalised from the kick-off. Despite initially signalling for the corner, Myler opted for the posts and badly miscued.
Saints were growing into the game though and a flat pass from Luther Burrell to Pisi got the home side moving up the touchline, before Myler’s cut-out pass put Lawes into space and the lock fed Waller, who bundled over for a first try on 13 minutes. Myler missed the touchline conversion.
Another breakdown penalty saw Botica pull three more back with 18 minutes gone.
But it was Northampton who looked the more threatening with ball-in-hand and when Myler kicked to the corner with 15 minutes remaining, the visitors found themselves in serious trouble.
Dickson exploited poor Harlequins’ blindside defence to put England second row Lawes through a glaring hole and over the line. Myler slotted his first kick of the afternoon to give Saints a 12-6 advantage.
It was Visser then, whose moment of individual brilliance lit up the game with less than ten minutes in the half.
Taking another short ball from Care, he stepped Lawes before standing up Foden to go under the sticks. Botica converted to put the visitors 13-12 ahead at half-time.
The second half was a minute old when Grand Slam winner Clifford’s showed his immense pace and power to race over from 35 metres. Botica converted to give Harlequins a 20-13 advantage.
Myler pegged O’Shea’s men back with three points after James Horwill was penalised for not rolling away and Teimana Harrison in particular was threatening for Saints.
Another breakdown penalty gave Saints a lineout deep in the Harlequins’ 22 and Myler was able to feed a rampaging Burrell, and once the ball was recycled, Myler went wide to Haywood.
The hooker fought off one tackle and off-loaded to Foden, who finished strongly in the corner. Myler converted.
Botica twice missed gilt-edged chances to give Harlequins a slender 23-22 lead with ten minutes remaining.
And Mallinder made him pay five minutes later when Ken Pisi’s flick sent him over in the corner, though Botica did manage to salvage a losing bonus point with his final kick.
If you want to be at the world’s biggest club rugby final, this year’s Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on 28 May, tickets are still available from premiershiprugby.com/final.