Northampton Saints were denied by two late tries at Twickenham Stoop as Harlequins came from behind to edge a pulsating Premiership Rugby Cup clash 26-25.
The men in Black, Green and Gold fell 14-0 down early on, but then turned the game on its head as scores for George Hendy, Mike Haywood and Josh Gillespie, plus two penalties for James Grayson, saw Northampton hit back with 25 unanswered points.
However the momentum shifted with two yellow cards for Saints after the hour mark, and after tries for Lennox Anyanwu and Luke Wallace, Jamie Benson’s conversion was enough to see Quins earn a one-point win.
Anyanwu had opened the scoring with his first of the night as Quins kicked two penalties into the corner before sending the centre over just right of the posts, and the hosts then doubled their lead as Aaron Morris and Huw Jones combined to set Scott Steele free.
Benson landed both conversions for a 14-0 lead after ten minutes, but from there it was one-way traffic for the remainder of the half, as Saints fought their way back into the game.
First, a turnover from Ollie Newman off the back of the lineout put Northampton in an attacking position, and as the visitors put the ball through the hands, a sumptuous offload from Rory Hutchinson found Hendy for the fullback to score in the corner.
Grayson’s touchline conversion was good, and the fly-half was soon converting another try as Saints drew level in the 26th minute; Northampton kicked a penalty into the corner and mauled Quins over their own line, with Haywood coming up with the ball.
And it was the men in Black, Green and Gold who ended up taking a slender lead into the sheds at half-time, as Gillespie scooped up a looping pass over the top from Hutchinson and galloped into the corner – although this time Grayson’s difficult conversion from the right hit the post, leaving the scoreline at 14-19.
But the penalties then started to stack up against Saints, and they paid the price with first replacement JJ Tonks, and then wing Tom Collins, being sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes each.
Despite being down to 13 men for an extended period, Northampton weathered the storm well and even stretched out their advantage to 25-14 as Quins were caught offside, and Grayson kicked the points.
However, just before Saints returned to a full complement of players, the hosts set up a grandstand finish with Anyanwu crashing over for his second score of the night following good work from Nick David and Hayden Hyde.
And while Benson missed the conversion on this occasion, Northampton were hit with a sucker punch five minutes from time as a burst from Jones was stopped just short of the line, but the ball was recycled and Wallace powered over.
Benson’s conversion this time was nerveless and the hosts held on to their slender one-point advantage from there until full-time.
Saints return to Gallagher Premiership action next weekend with a trip to the West Country to face Bristol Bears on Friday evening.