Northampton Saints’ frustrating run of form since the Gallagher Premiership’s resumption continued on Sunday, as Chris Boyd’s side went down to their third loss in four matches and were beaten 30-17 by Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop.
In a free-flowing game, 20 points for the hosts in a 15-minute period either side of the break proved costly for the men in Black, Green and Gold.
The loss put another dent in Saints’ chances of a play-off place, although they remain in sixth place in the league standings ahead of a clash with Premiership-leaders Exeter Chiefs on Friday night.
Saints’ Director of Rugby Boyd had once again rung the changes for the visit to West London, selecting an entirely new starting XV from the one that was beaten on home soil by Bath on Wednesday.
And it was the visitors who flew out of the blocks to score the game’s first points when Scotland international centre Rory Hutchinson touched down after just six minutes, having collected a neat pass in midfield from fly-half James Grayson, who then converted.
Quins replied soon after through a Marcus Smith penalty and then scored a try of their own through wing Nathan Earle. With Saints penalised for holding on just outside their 22, Quins tapped quickly and a long, mis-pass from full-back Mike Brown found Earle out wide to score in the corner, with Smith skilfully adding the extras.
With eight minutes of the first half to play, Saints struck back through Ryan Olowofela. The wing found himself on the end of a sharp, flat pass from Grayson to dot down and retake the lead.
But Saints’ advantage was short-lived after they gifted the home side field position deep in their own 22. Quins’ line-out maul forced Saints backwards before hooker Scott Baldwin burrowed his way over the line for their second try, moving the home side ahead by a point. Quins’ lead was extended further when Saints infringed at the breakdown and Smith struck from the tee to make it 18-14 at the break.
A ruthless start to the second half saw Quins score their third, Chris Robshaw going over in the corner after Smith had cut through the Saints defence with some neat footwork before offloading to the former England captain.
Saints tried to muster a quick reaction, but they were the architects of their own downfall four minutes later as Quins turned defence into attack; full-back Brown pierced through the visitors’ midfield before feeding a tracking Chris Ashton to score Quins’ fourth.
Saints continued to rally, but couldn’t quite finish the chances they were creating. Eventually they did make some headway though after Quins were adjudged offside, Grayson slotting the three to keep in contention at 30-17.
However, any slim chance of a Saints comeback was quashed as the clock ticked down and they could not score despite multiple entries into the red zone in the closing stages.