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Lightning 22 – 17 Harlequins: Loughborough edge Gardens thriller

Loughborough Lightning brought the curtain down on their Allianz Premier 15s season in style with a superb 22-17 win over Harlequins at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

The hosts led 15-12 at the interval after outscoring the league’s defending champions by three tries to two during the opening 40 – with Bulou Mataitoga, Helena Rowland and Sadia Kabeya all crossing the whitewash.

Quins did threaten to snatch the victory as they took the lead through Vickii Cornborough midway through the second half, but inside the final five minutes, up popped replacement Hallie Taufoou to score the match-winning try to the delight of the supporters inside the Gardens.

In front of a boisterous crowd just shy of 1,500 people, the opening exchanges were thoroughly entertaining as Loughborough and Harlequins played end-to-end rugby on the flawless turf.

Rowland launched a break from her own five-metre line in the fifth minute, but Lightning were denied as Quins held the ball up and a penalty for a side entry shortly after allowed Ellie Green to clear up to halfway.

But with 13 minutes on the clock, Loughborough made the breakthrough to open the scoring as Mataitoga scythed through a gap on the right wing and cut inside to beat a couple of defenders to score.

Emily Scarratt’s conversion attempt from out wide just missed the uprights, and while Lightning did well to hold up a Quins attack over the line, the visitors soon were level as No.8 Sarah Beckett barged over from short range with a powerful carry.

Loughborough’s back-line were causing havoc as Rowland, Scarratt, Helen Nelson and Bo Westcombe-Evans combined and eventually the pressure told as fly-half Rowland’s arcing run saw her beat a couple of defenders and score left of the posts.

At scrum time Lightning were on top too, forcing a couple of knock-ons and penalties in the midfield, before just after the half-hour mark Kabeya stretched off the back of a driving maul to extend the lead to ten points at 15-5.

There was still time however for Quins to close the gap before the break as flanker Katy Mew collected an offload and powered over the whitewash – with Green adding the extras from the tee.

Loughborough’s scrummaging and some determined defence kept Quins at bay early in the second half, as the visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and territory, before both sides brought a host of fresh legs off the bench.

A superb break from Scarratt took Loughborough all the way up the field and into Quins’ 22 just before the hour mark, but after the visitors were penalised for killing the ball, the resulting five-metre lineout went astray for Lightning.

Quins then hit the front for the first time in the match after 62 mins, with a driving maul motoring towards the line before replacement Cornborough collected the ball and dived over.

Green’s conversion attempt hit the post to leave the scoreline at 15-17, and as Quins looked to score again shortly after, a crucial breakdown penalty won by Loughborough stopped the defending champions in their tracks.

Carys Williams then broke down the right for Lightning, and as Loughborough recycled the ball quickly Taufoou was set-up beautifully by a perfectly-timed Nelson pass to run the ball under the posts for the bonus-point score.

Scarratt converted and with the clock now inside the final five minutes, the hosts were able to hold out to triumph and complete a superb afternoon of action in Northampton.

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