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Saints 32 – 31 Harlequins: Monster Grayson penalty snatches dramatic Northampton win

James Grayson’s long-range penalty in the dying moments of the game handed Northampton Saints a dramatic victory over Harlequins after an all-action encounter at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

The men in Black, Green and Gold led 26-17 at the interval; Tommy Freeman, Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank and Alex Waller all scoring to secure a try bonus point inside the opening 40 – although the visitors were still in touch after Andre Esterhuizen and Huw Jones both also crossed.

Quins then flipped the script with two tries after half-time through Alex Dombrandt and Cadan Murley, but Saints – ravaged by injuries throughout the contest – dug in and prevailed in the last few moments of the match.

Grayson nervelessly kicked two penalties to edge the result, keep Northampton fourth in the Gallagher Premiership standings, and send a packed-out Franklin’s Gardens into raptures.

Api Ratuniyarawa got up to steal an early Quins lineout, and that set the platform for the first chance of the match. Furbank chipped over the top, but Rory Hutchinson was just beaten to the bouncing ball by Jones in the in-goal area.

Moments later however, a superb tip-on from James Grayson created the space for Saints to put the ball through the hands, and Ludlam’s final ball inside released Freeman to score the opener.

Saints lost Juarno Augustus to an ankle injury in the aftermath, with triallist Aaron Hinkley entering the field to make his Club debut – and Quins responded quickly as Esterhuizen went under the posts after both Danny Care and then Marcus Smith made darts while playing with advantage.

Man-of-the-match Alex Mitchell came close to scoring in the 11th minute after being put through by Ratuniyarawa, but the scrum-half was just tackled into touch short of the line by opposite number Care. Conor Carey was subsequently replaced by Paul Hill after twisting his knee in the build up.

Saints weren’t to be stopped and had their second shortly after as Dombrandt knocked-on from the lineout, and another excellent pass from Mitchell allowed Ludlam to cut inside Stephan Lewies and score – with Grayson landing his second conversion from out wide to make it 14-7.

A straightforward penalty for Smith after 17 minutes reduced the deficit to four as Emmanuel Iyogun was penalised under the posts, but the loosehead’s carry up to the line was crucial in Furbank’s try nine minutes later, with the fullback doing well to finish under pressure from short range.

Waller had already entered the field as replacement Hill failed an HIA, meaning referee Matthew Carley had no option but to resort to uncontested scrums for the remainder of the match.

Furbank tackled Esterhuizen into touch just after the half-hour mark just as the centre looked set to score. However, there was nothing Saints could do about a piece of magic from Joe Marchant, as he flipped the ball back into play in mid-air on the touchline for Jones to cut inside and score under the posts shortly after.

But Saints secured the bonus point before the break after Freeman’s chip-and-chase down the left wing took the hosts five metres out. Quins infringed and from the five-metre scrum, Courtney Lawes, then Mitchell, then Mike Haywood all knocked on the door with pick-and-go attempts before Waller crashed over under the posts.

Yet another injury for Northampton saw Alex Coles replaced by Alex Moon in the engine room, but Saints had earned a 26-17 lead as the sides went into the sheds.

However they were made to pay for two early second-half penalties as Quins made 90 metres kicking to touch, and Dombrandt then burst over from short range following an effective rolling maul from the visitors.

Smith converted to bring his side back within two points before Quins hit the front for the first time on 52 minutes as another excellent pass from Marchant created the space for Murley to score in the corner.

Another pinpoint conversion from Smith made it 26-31, but Grayson reduced arrears just before the hour mark with a three-pointer of his own after Jones was penalised in front of the posts.

Quins were reduced to 14 players as Santiago Garcia-Botta was yellow carded for a high shot to the head of Furbank, but the visitors managed the ten minutes well with no score for either side – Smith intercepting a Mitchell pass close to his own line to snuff out the best chance of the sin-bin period.

The game entered the final three minutes as Luke Wallace was penalised just inside his own half, and up stepped Grayson to point to the posts and slam over what proved to be the decisive kick of the match – with Franklin’s Gardens erupting as the ball sailed between the posts and Northampton’s win was confirmed.

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