Ben Botica’s last-gasp score sealed a dramatic 31-30 win for Harlequins in a topsy-turvy LV= Cup encounter against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
Before Botica’s late drama Ryan Lamb had gone from villain to hero as Saints staged a remarkable comeback in the second period.
Lamb was at fault for two of Quins’ three first-half scores, a Sam Smith double and a Harry Sloan try on debut, that put the Aviva Premiership champions 21-9 up at the interval.
Lamb continued to kick his goals, finishing with 20 points, while also organising a much-improved showing from his backline in the second half as Luther Burrell and Tom May crossed for tries that turned the game on its head.
But Botica barged over under the posts late on before converting his own score that sealed a bonus-point win for Conor O’Shea’s troops.
Both sides rung the changes and gave youth a chance, Tom Stephenson given his debut for the Saints in the centre with five other debutants on the bench.
Meanwhile defending Aviva Premiership champions Quins, with five players named in the senior England squad to face Fiji and two away with Samoa, handed senior starting debuts to centre Sloan and hooker Dave Ward.
Saints started much the brighter and after a period of early pressure Quins infringed at the breakdown and Lamb curled in a second-minute penalty to take the lead.
Jim Mallinder’s troops looked to be dominating the set-piece as well but even robbed of their big-name backs Quins are always an attacking threat and it was they who scored the first try of the game.
A long pass from Lamb was spilled by Paul Doran-Jones and found its way to Smith, the winger slipping his man before coasting in under the posts from the halfway line, Botica adding the extras for a 7-3 lead.
Despite that early score the new-look Quins front row of Mark Lambert, Ward and Will Collier was clearly struggling against Saints’ raw power and after forcing Quins back 15 metres another penalty was conceded and Lamb made no mistake to reduce the deficit.
Quins continued to look a threat on the counter but Northampton were dominating territory and possession, skipper for the day Calum Clark in particular impressing around the fringes for the Saints.
The next try looked more likely to come from Saints but once again Mallinder’s troops were their own worst enemy as Quins stole in for their second score of the half.
Mike Haywood missed his jumper from a lineout deep in Saints’ own half and Sloan collected and ghosted over for a debut score, Botica again adding the extras for a 14-6 lead.
Lamb had an immediate chance to reduce their arrears after a crunching Burrell tackle forced a penalty but his effort came back off the post just after the half hour.
Defensive lapses were really costing Saints and it was Lamb this time who gift-wrapped Quins’ third try of the half, his long pass easily intercepted by Smith who trotted in for his second and a 21-6 lead five minutes before the break.
With the last kick of the half Lamb, after turning down a kickable penalty moments before, slotted over the easiest of penalties to make it 21-9 after Quins withstood some fine Saints pressure on their try-line.
They may have already run in three tries but the start of the second half saw Quins’ first real period of concerted pressure and they nearly had a bonus point in the 45th minute but the omnipresent Clark made a try-saving tackle on Matt Hopper to keep the deficit at 12 points.
Saints were far from beaten though and a fourth Lamb penalty made it 21-12, but better was soon to come.
Immediately from the re-start Jamie Elliott scampered clear down the left before feeding Burrell who barrelled his way over for Saints’ first try of the game.
Lamb missed the conversion by a whisker but all of a sudden the deficit was only four at 21-17 to the visitors.
A Botica penalty steadied the ship for the London club as they stretched their lead back out to seven in the 55th minute but Saints were in the mood now.
Another fine break in the backs saw Burrell charging for the corner and his offload fed May to dive over in the corner, Lamb slotting a very tough conversion to level things up at 24-24.
With his error-strewn first-half now a thing of the past Lamb was clearly in the mood and his right boot kept Quins pinned back in their own half in the closing stages.
And it was his penalty with less than a quarter of an hour to go that put Saints in front for the first time since the third minute at 27-24.
As the game entered the last five minutes Lamb’s drop goal appeared to have sealed it for Saints but Quins are making a habit of late late scores.
And after Ethan Waller was sent to the sin bin on his debut, Botica burrowed over between the posts before dusting himself down and converting for a dramatic Quins win.