It was a case of all bark and no bite for Harlequins as tries from Samu Manoa, James Wilson and Tom Wood helped Northampton Saints to Aviva Premiership Rugby victory at Franklin’s Gardens.
The evening started well for Quins with Marland Yarde looking dangerous and the visitors able to hold the champions at bay for almost half an hour.
A Nick Evans penalty gave Harlequins the lead but that only served to ignite the Saints attack as Manoa and Wilson put them in charge and Wood’s second half try sealed the win – Quins left to settle for a losing bonus point.
The home side looked like they would set the tempo early and a free-kick from the scrum brought about the game’s first chance but Lee Dickson knocked on as the opportunity fizzled out.
It was a warning sign for Quins though and Saints looked full of confidence as they were happy to play out of their own 22.
It almost proved a costly tactic for the champions however as Quins took their first visit to the 22 and a kick through the Northampton defence from Evans almost found its way to Yarde five yards from the line.
It was the catalyst the visitors needed but the story was a familiar one as they huffed and puffed but struggled to carve a way through the solid Saints defence – Dickson eventually clearing.
The match was end to end but conspicuously lacking a score. That looked like it might change on 18 minutes with the home side winning a penalty from a driving maul and looked to touch as they sought to drive Quins back.
But that didn’t materialise and the game swung back and forth until the 26th minute when the boot of Evans broke the deadlock after Saints conceded a penalty at their own scrum.
The lead only lasted for two minutes, however, as Saints woke from their slumber and a driving maul forced Manoa over the line – Stephen Myler converting with a little help from the upright.
The visitors were playing with intent but struggling to carve out any real chances. They did however pull themselves within one on 34 minutes thanks to Evans’ second penalty of the night.
Quins started brightly after the restart and they thought they had their first try of the night on 46 minutes when Yarde looked like he would cross the whitewash but the TMO showed that George Pisi had dragged the wing out of play before dotting down.
Harlequins were going toe to toe with Northampton but lacked the stroke of luck that would see them take the lead.
And the lack of a clinical edge cost them on 53 minutes when they conceded a penalty five yards from the line and Saints worked the ball from right to left for Wilson to run over unopposed – Myler off target with the kick.
With Kyle Sinckler in the bin Harlequins had their backs to the walls and Saints smelled blood as they went on the hunt for the killer blow.
If Quins were going to take anything from the game it would have to be built on the foundations of a mammoth rearguard effort.
They were hanging in but as quickly as they cleared the ball it was coming right back and, in the end, the pressure was too intense as Wood drove over the line to make it 17-6 – Myler once again off target with the conversion.
With time ticking down Northampton looked in complete control but Harlequins thought they had a way back into the match when Charlie Walker dotted down with three minutes remaining, only for the TMO to confirm a forward pass in the build up.
But they did have their reward for a hard night’s work right at the death as Yarde broke away to cross over and seal a losing bonus-point for the visitors.
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