Harlequins battered their way into the Final of the Aviva Premiership play-offs with a powerful and inexorable rolling maul that started from a lineout fifteen metres out, taken at the back by Nick Easter, and continued irresistibly to cross the Northampton line by the posts where Joe Marler scored in a pile of bodies. The simplest of conversions from Nick Evans gave Quins the lead at 25 - 23, the victory and a duel with Leicester Tigers for the title.
This was a tense and nervy match from the start. An early penalty against the visitors was marched forward ten metres into kicking range as the two scrum-half brothers Dickson clashed lest Quins get quick ball. Evans duly kicked the first of six penalties. Thereafter the first half was a cagey and error strewn affair of two sides trying to play attacking rugby, but prevented by fine defence and unforced error. There were occasional flashes of chances. A fine break by Artemyev, a late replacement for Ashton, threatened a score until Brown snuffed out the threat. For Quins Fa’asavalu made a couple of breaks but was stopped. Penalty followed penalty during the first half hour with both fly halves missing once and scoring three times. A yellow card for Wilson reduced the visitors to fourteen men but at half time Northampton led by 9 – 12.
The second half continued the match is much the same tense fashion with the penalty count continuing to rise and the score reached 15 – 18 when a miss from Evans left the visitors leading as the game moved into the final quarter. There had been a massive tussle in the front row of the scrum. Both Johnston and Marler were immense, giving nothing to the usually dominant Saints’ pack where Tonga’ihua and Mujati fought in vain to gain their usual superiority, The Harlequin pack had the edge throughout.
Then Northampton struck. A break down the wing by Artemyev was followed by a suspiciously forward pass to Pisi, on to Downey and there was Lee Dickson to score the try. Lamb missed with his conversion attempt, a significant failure. Northampton led by eight points, 15 – 23 with less than a quarter hour remaining.
Harlequins immediately sought to attack. Guest replaced Fa’asavalu and Hopper replaced Smith, Lowe moving to the wing. Almost immediately Northampton were penalised for going off their feet at the breakdown and marched back a further ten metres for kicking the ball away. The easier kick was duly slotted through by Evans and, with only a few minutes remaining, Quins went into attack mode.
With four minutes remaining another penalty was kicked to touch for the decisive lineout and maul. Gray threw true to the tail. Easter rose high to take safely and the forwards set themselves for the drive, moving ever nearer the line and towards the posts. As the momentum increased Evans, Turner-Hall, Brown and other backs joined the irresistible juggernaut. The Stoop rose in triumph, but had to wait for the television official to confirm the score. The conversion kick was unmissable.
Three minutes remained to wind down the clock. Lamb’s restart did not go ten metres and Harlequins had the scrum and the ball. Another maul took play out of kicking range of the Quins’ posts and possession was retained until Evans joyfully kicked the ball into the stand and The Stoop erupted as the final whistle blew.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, S Smith (M Hopper, 70); N Evans, K Dickson; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 68), N Easter, C Robshaw (capt).
Northampton Saints B Foden; V Artemyev, G Pisi, J Downey (T May, 76), P Diggin; R Lamb, L Dickson (capt); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 65), A Long (R McMillan, 62), B Mujati (P Doran-Jones, 57), M Sorenson, C Day, J Craig (T Harrison, 63), R Wilson (B Nutley, 76), P Dowson.
Such an amazing ending. 3 errors from lamb when it mattered; missed a relatively straight forward conversion - credit to smith for charging at him, following that try he didn't clear his lines and we got penalty to get withing 7, then finally messed up restart and made our job of seeing out the clock easier
why was jth's intercept from foden's quick throw called back? was it just because wilson was coming back on, or should foden not have been allowed to take it quickly for some reason?
We took a quick throw, Small explained that he didn't allow it because the sin bin had finished and their player had to be allowed back on.
The not allowing the Brown quick tap with the line beckoning was far more galling - he stopped him because he was giving a yellow card - no reason why he couldn't have given the yellow card after the try had been scored
On the ITV highlights Small says something about which players touched the ball. I presume his comments about the end of the sin bin just didn't make the edit, but he definitely said the throw had not been taken correctly.
I sat for 20 seconds in eager anticipation of how the ref was going to phrase the question to the TMO, as the chances of any cameras spotting a grounding were slim. When he said 'is there any reason why I can't award the try' I leapt around the room!
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