Director of Rugby Chris Boyd tipped his cap to his Northampton Saints side after a ‘courageous’ and ‘gutsy’ performance to see off Harlequins on Friday evening.
The men in Black, Green and Gold earned their fifth-straight bonus-point win in the Gallagher Premiership as James Grayson landed a late penalty from close to halfway to snatch a dramatic 32-31 win from the defending champions.
Tommy Freeman, Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank, and Alex Waller all crossed for first-half tries, but it was Grayson’s two penalties in the second 40 (taking his personal tally for the evening to 12 points) that proved pivotal in downing Quins to keep Saints in the driving seat for a top-four finish with two games remaining.
Northampton lost Juarno Augustus, Conor Carey, Paul Hill, Alex Coles, Fraser Dingwall and (for a ten-minute HIA) Furbank during what proved to be an attritional match, but stuck together in front of packed-out home crowd to seal a memorable triumph.
“It was a pretty courageous effort, particularly in the pack,” Boyd said. “We lost three guys before half-time and weren’t able to freshen that pack up at all because we had to keep Fishy [James Fish] in reserve. We didn't want to risk going down to 14 men.
“It was a gutsy effort. We’ve been ticking away quite nicely while we’ve been playing knockout rugby, and it was a pretty decent show. At the end I thought the roof was going to come off when we managed to get the penalty.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“Despite everything that happened, there were so many gutsy performances and I’m so pleased for everyone in the organisation, all the supporters and the long-suffering people. To keep ourselves alive and keep the roll going has been very pleasing.
“We were pretty good for our money in the first 40 minutes and the difference to recent weeks was that when we created chances we managed to finish them. It was a mixture of good individual play, some good skill and also some really good team stuff.
“I’m proud because I was concerned with 20 minutes to go that we didn’t have enough cavalry and we were going to run out of juice. We had to go deep in the well – and we did. It was probably the gutsiest performance we’ve had for a long time.
“It was also a great spectacle; full stadium, lots of noise and lots of tension. It’s great for the game and great for the Town.”
With two matches of the regular season to go – away at Saracens and then at home to Newcastle – Saints’ top-four destiny remains in their own hands courtesy of a run which has seen them claim 25 points (from a possible 25) over the last five rounds.
Several players caught the eye against Quins, with Alex Mitchell scooping yet another man-of-the-match award and Lewis Ludlam leading from the front, while Courtney Lawes shrugged off dislocating his thumb a fortnight ago to play 80 minutes.
Boyd added: “Between training on Tuesday and the match, I was watching Courtney out of the corner of my eye – just to make sure there was nothing going on with his thumb. He’s a world-class player, he’s playing through some discomfort, but he’s an inspiration to the other guys.
“I thought there were a number of players that stood up; Jimmy [Grayson] was good defensively and offensively.
“We lost our way a little bit as a team in that 20-minute period after half-time, but the way that Jimmy and Hutch [Rory Hutchinson] in particular took care of Andre Esterhuizen most of the time was excellent.
“Then there’s Aaron Hinkley, who deserves a mention on his first game for the Club; he’s only played 40 minutes of rugby against the British Army in the last two months, but he was pretty decent coming on so early and playing 75-odd minutes.”