“Jim, Harlequins had 74 percent of possession but you won the game.”
Sometimes matches can be summarised succinctly, and those 12 words did exactly that. For while Harlequins pounded away, keeping the ball with off-load after off-load, keeping the 82,000-capacity crowd on the edge of its seat, it was the Saints who were more direct, capitalising on their rare opportunities to take points.
However when George Lowe crossed with just five minutes on the clock the final outcome looked far from assured. Saints had barely touched the ball, and as the hosts finished off a move begun by Lowe in their own half, things already looked ominous as Harlequins slipped through the gears.
But one of the Saints’ hallmarks this season has been a doggedness, patience and commitment, and despite falling even further behind courtesy of a Tim Swiel penalty the visitors remained focussed.
Reward came from a Stephen Myler conversion after 11 minutes, and a Samu Manoa try that rounded off a powerful close-range driving maul right at the end of the opening quarter. And then even when Salesi Ma’afu was yellow carded for a high tackle Saints kept calm and carried on, indeed winning the 10-minute period that sandwiched half-time 10-0.
That was because, having done the hard work, they were rewarded with a bit of luck. Manoa charged down a low Swiel spiral, then beat Matt Hopper to the loose ball with his pace, before finding George North in one motion with a nice off-load that put the Welshman in for his first ever try at the home of English rugby.
Myler’s conversion gave Saints a double-digit lead, which they maintained after the fly halves swapped penalties. And even when Harlequins pulled them back into contention with Jack Clifford’s try on the hour the cheers were relatively short-lived, Saints heading back upfield to pile some pressure on from which Kahn Fotuali’i powered over from close range.
Myler’s accuracy took Saints out to an 18-30 lead, and while Harlequins would have the last say of the game three minutes from time thanks to replacement Sam Twomey, their last, desperate attack made its way only to halfway, and Saints had the win they wanted.
Re-live the action at www.saintslive.co.uk
The Saints are back in action on Friday, January 2nd, hosting Newcastle at Franklin's Gardens as the second half of the Aviva Premiership campaign gets underway. Make sure you're there, too - head to www.tinyurl.com/SAI-NEW-1415 to book online, using [email protected] to beat the match day queues and save the admin fees!
5mins QUINS Try Lowe 5-0
9mins QUINS Pen Swiel 8-0
11mins SAINTS Pen Myler 8-3
18mins SAINTS Try Manoa Con Myler 8-10
33mins SAINTS Yellow card Ma’afu
38mins SAINTS Pen Myler 8-13
HALF-TIME HARLEQUINS 8 SAINTS 13
41mins QUINS Miss pen Swiel
42mins SAINTS Try North Con Myler 8-20
52mins QUINS Pen Swiel 11-20
54mins SAINTS Pen Myler 11-23
59mins QUINS Try Clifford Con Swiel 18-23
71mins SAINTS Try Fotuali’i Con Myler 18-30
77mins QUINS Try Twomey Con Swiel 25-30
FULL-TIME HARLEQUINS 25 SAINTS 30