Northampton Saints were on the wrong end of a high-scoring thriller in Round 12 of the Gallagher Premiership, going down 37-19 to Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop.
Saints spent the dying stages attacking against 13-men after two Quins yellow cards, but ultimately could not narrow the gap as a late breakaway score added some gloss to the scoreline for the Londoners.
The game’s first points came from an early Marcus Smith penalty in front of the posts, but it did not take long for Saints to hit back.
Peeling off a lineout just inside the 22, Sam Matavesi’s short pop sent Fraser Dingwall into space. One-on-one with the last man, it was an easy last pass to give that sent Collins – who was a late replacement for Matt Proctor – over the line.
Quins retook the lead minutes later. A loose ball in Saints territory allowed Danny Care to kick in behind, and Tyrone Green won the race to dot down with Smith’s conversion making it 10-5.
Quins skipper Lewies extended the lead when taking a Scott Baldwin offload to stretch out over the line. In the build-up, Ollie Sleightholme’s try-saving tackle on Joe Marchant looked to have bailed Northampton out of trouble, only for the ball to roll back on the Quins side.
The frantic pace of the opening quarter continued as James secured his third score in two games. Rory Hutchinson’s delayed pass just outside the 22 opened up enough of a gap for Dingwall to step back inside, shed two would-be tacklers before finding the support line to send James under the sticks. Hutchinson converted to narrow the gap to 17-12.
Dingwall and Sleightholme prevented further tries at the other end with an intercepted offload and breakdown poach respectively, while Danny Care did cross the line but only after an illegal hand on the deck from Alex Dombrandt handed Quins back possession.
After being denied time and again by Saints’ defence, Quins eventually scored their third just past the half-hour mark; Mike Brown’s hard angle saw him power over from close range. Smith added another penalty before the break to make the score 27-12.
Saints needed a fast start to the second half to eat into the lead, and they so nearly got one – George Furbank was held up over the line after an 18-phase attack inside the 22.
Off the back of the five-metre scrum, James’ silky offload nearly sent Furbank over the line but he was held just short by Lewies. James then kicked deftly through for Dingwall to chase but he could not hold on in the in-goal area.
What happened next was a moment of magic from Sleightholme. After Quins broke from their own 22, Green’s offload drifted forward deep in Northampton territory. Dingwall gathered before quickly putting Sleightholme into space. With no one home in the backfield, his chip back up the pitch led to a beautiful score once the ball sat up for the wing inside the 22. Hutchinson’s conversion narrowed the gap to 27-19.
Taqele Naiyaravoro entered the fray immediately after the try, and his first involvement was to get on the end of a back line move that got to within five metres of the line. The chance went begging as Smith rushed up out of the line to pick off a pass. Quins took the chance to then break, earning a penalty that stretched the lead to 30-19.
The pace of the game did not relent and with 15 minutes to go, repeated lapses in discipline saw Jack Kenningham go to the bin after sacking a Saints maul inside the 22. Quins were then soon down to 13 as Dombrandt joined Kenningham in the bin for killing an attack inside the 22. Saints opted for the scrum five metres from the line, only for Quins’ rush defence to force a handling error.
Saints could not take advantage of the two-man advantage, and the game ended with a breakaway score from Brett Herron against the run of play. Northampton stay fifth in the Gallagher Premiership standings but attention now turns to bouncing back on home soil against Sale Sharks next weekend.