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Saints v Quins: Lost The Battle But Won The War
By Bedfordshire Boy
May 12 2017

Last chance saloon, both Saints and Quins know exactly what it is they have to do to achieve the much vaunted sixth place in the Premiership final placings to give them a place in the European Champions Cup next season. Difficult one to call but my prediction was a win for Saints by a couple of points leaving Quins with the spoils. 

Not the brightest of days with a chilly wind but at least it was dry and pitch surface was in remarkable condition. Rumours in the week about the possible unavailability of Picamoles, Lawes and North proved unfounded but Danny Care failed to recover from the injury picked up during the Wasps game so was the only absentee for Quins from that game. Virtually an unchanged team for three consecutive matches has to be good news for Quins, just need to bring forward the improvement in performance from the Exeter and Wasps games.

Quins were led out onto the pitch by Kyle Sinckler who was playing his one hundredth game for the club before Nick Evans got the game underway. The short kick was gathered by Saints and fed back to Tuitavake who kicked to touch but as the ball was taken in to the 22, Quins were awarded a line out 20 metres out from the Saints line. Quins win the line out and from the second phase Karl Dickson chips a neat ball into the corner which Tim Visser takes to continue the attack until finally captain James Horwell is driven over the line for the first try of the game with only two minutes on the clock. A dream start made even better when the two extra points are added by Nick Evans.

Tremendous noise from the Quins supporters, sounds as if the game is being played in south west London. Quins continue to look the side more likely to score by cleverly changing the point of attack and are finally rewarded when Saints are penalised for collapsing a scrum with nine minutes gone. A straightforward kick by Evans and Quins find themselves ten points to the good and certainly looking very comfortable.

Saints hang on to the ball for a few phases and are awarded a penalty which they kick for touch just short of the Quins 22. Following the line out Courtney Lawes is penalised for a high tackle which allows Quins to clear the ball to the halfway line which is easily won but a big tackle by Luther Burrell on Marland Yarde sees the ball spilled resulting in a scrum for the home side midfield. Picamoles breaks with the ball as Saints are awarded a free kick from the collapsed scrum and when he is finally tackled and brought to a halt, still manages to get the ball away allowing Nic Groom to get into the Quins 22 before he is stripped of the ball by Karl Dickson.

Quins try to play their way out of the danger area but eventually knock on the ball as a scrum is awarded to Saints allowing Tom Woods to be taken off after an earlier knock. Teimana Harrison comes on as a replacement with fourteen minutes on the clock. From the scrum Saints spend their first period in the Quins 22 and after a diagonal run by Burrell the ball is passed to Harry Mallinder in the tackle whose inside pass allows George North to easily score under the posts from 10 metres out. Mallinder has no trouble with the conversion and all of a sudden Saints are right back in the match with under 16 minutes played.

Saints get possession from the restart and a kick into the Quins 22 finds Marland Yarde who runs the ball which is recycled to allow Nick Evans to find touch for a line out ten metres from the Saints line. Saints find touch inside their own half from the line out and Waller gives away a penalty for playing the ball on the ground from the resulting Quins line out and attack. Evans elects to kick for the three points but the loud cheer from the home fans tells us that the ball drifts wide of the posts, could be costly at the end of the game. Both teams continue to carry the ball forward in midfield but a superb kick by Groom into the corner is fumbled by an under pressure Marland Yarde to give the Saints a line out five metres from the Quins line. From the line out Saints recycle the ball when finally yet another off load from Picamoles allows Alex Waller to score Saints second try. Another straightforward kick for Mallinder brings the score Saints 14 Quins 10 sixteen minutes from the half time break.

The tide has certainly turned now with Saints in full on attack mode and the Quins defence being tested to the full but eventually a line out steal by Luke Wallace relieves some of the pressure albeit that Saints continue to press. At last on 30 minutes Quins string together a number of phases and get well into the Saints half after a break by Kyle Sinckler who then passes to nobody although Quins manage to retain the ball and are eventually awarded a penalty for a high tackle. The kick, which is from almost the same position as the previous one ends up with the same result as the ball once again drifts right of the posts.

Mallinder clears the ball to touch for a Quins line out between the 22 and the half way line which forms the base for another Quins attack. Quins probe the Saints defences down the left hand side when Evans changes the line of attack by a pinpoint kick to the right hand wing which is gathered by Wallace who is eventually held up 10 metres out. Quins manage to recycle the ball which eventually goes to Sinckler who places an “Evansesque” chip to within 5 metres of the Saints line. Quins attack the Saints line out and all that Groom can do is get the ball safely into touch which allows Quins to mount another attack. A fine break by Joe Marchant is is repelled but he offloads the ball to Mike Brown who is eventually brought to ground 5 metres short of the Saints line only for Marchant to pick up the recycled ball and run in for a try in the corner. This time Nick Evans kick is on target so the score moves on to Saints 14 Quins 17 5 minutes from the break.

Quins gather restart ball but make a real mess of the exit strategy when the clearance kick by Evans only finds Ben Foden who runs the ball straight back and after pressurising the Quins defence, Saints are awarded a penalty for off side. So after all of the hard work Quins give away 3 easy points from the boot of Mallinder to bring the scores level as the game headed for the half time break. So honours even at the break in terms of the score which was pretty much a reflection of the play up to that point, still everything to play for.

 No changes to either team as Mallinder starts the second half with a short kick which is taken by Luke Wallace. Quins hold on to the ball but make little progress until the ball is turned over and Mallinder makes a speculative and badly executed drop goal attempt which simply gives the ball back to Quins, it would appear that he feels he has something to learn from a typical Quins tactic. After a couple of minutes Saints once again turn the ball over and this time a hanging kick is well taken by Mike Brown which is recycled to Nick Evans who effects a superb kick to find touch on the Saints 22. Saints clearly have a game plan which is to give the ball back to Quins whenever they get it but eventually get into an attacking position after a kick to touch in the Quins half after Yarde is penalised.

Saints win the ball and set up a maul but the ball is stripped and James Horwell runs the ball to the 10 metre line to set up another Quins attack. A massive tackle on Sinckler sees the ball spilled allowing Saints to kick the ball forward, but luckily for Quins, it runs dead. Play is brought back for a Saints scrum on the Quins 22 but the scrum collapses and Quins get the ball safely away to touch from the resulting penalty. Quins continue to attack and are awarded a penalty against Harrison on the Saints 22; a bit harsh on Saints but Evans is clinical with the kick to bring the score to Saints 17 Quins 20 with 50 minutes showing on the clock. Now it is Saints who put together a sustained attack which eventually breaks down when the ball is knocked on and the break in play sees Nick Evans looking in pain holding his shoulder, he has really been targeted in this match but so far has proved to be up for the challenge.

Another penalty against Brookes at the scrum gives Evans the chance to find touch in the Saints half but the line out is stolen before Saints are awarded a penalty for Quins not rolling away. Back in the Quins half with Saintsfind themselves camped inside the Quins red area after a 35 metre break by George North but great defensive work by Quins sees the ball turned over. Nick Evans looking very unhappy once again holding his shoulder and this time has to accept that he cannot continue and is replaced by Tim Swiel. So that finally is the end of a great career as the whole stadium shows their appreciation of all that he has gone during the last 10 years.

Swiel is left with difficult task of safely finding touch from under his own posts which he fails to do as the ball is well gathered by Ben Foden who runs the ball back to Quins who were definitely caught napping. A knock on by Quins results in a Saints scrum but the ball is spilled in the centre allowing Tim Swiel to boot the ball up field, collect the bounce and pass to Tim Visser who is stopped halfway inside the Saints half of the field. Saints win a turn over but once again boot the ball away up field for Mike Brown to collect. This is exciting stuff with the game finally balanced and there is still a little over 20 minutes to go. Referee J P Doyle then goes to the TMO to check the “spilled” Saints ball in their previous attack and Charlie Matthews is quite rightly shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock on, pressure right back on Quins.

Not unexpectedly Saints kick to touch for a line out 5 metres out, catch and drive and with the Quins defence stretched Tuitavake goes over the line for a try in the corner. The joy from the Saints supporters is cut short as the pass is clearly shown to be forward but as an advantage was being played another penalty was kicked to touch on the 5 metres line. Denman and Hutchinson replace Brookes and Foden for Saints. Another line out, another penalty with a warning to Quins, another line out but well defended this time and a scrum awarded to the defending side. With the Quins scrum going backwards Chris Robshaw manages to pick up the ball allowing Karl Dickson to get the ball safely into touch.

Saints win their line out but the ball is stripped in midfield and Quins keep hold of the ball to take the game into the Saints half. Tim Swiel nips through the Saints defensive line, side steps the Saints fullback Tuala who just manages a tap tackle to bring Swiel to ground 15 metres from the Saints line. The ball is recycled and following a long pass out to Tim Visser the move breaks down, Saints retrieve the ball and are happy to get the ball into touch 20 metres from their line. Quins are doing exceptionally well considering they still have to play more than 4 minutes with 14 players. Foden comes back onto the field before the line out which Horwill wins but cannot get the ball to ground in the maul so the ball is lost. The ball comes out on the Quins side and Joe Marchant executes a perfect drop goal but it is disallowed as a penalty has already been awarded to Saints, pity as that would have given Quins a bit more breathing space. Mallinder kicks to the halfway line but Saints lose the ball in the line out allowing Quins to attack once again but their ball is turned over and Foden is forced into touch which results a spot of handbags.

J P Doyle speaks to the players, in particular Kyle Sinckler, and then reviews the Foden tackle and awards Saints a penalty for a Horwill high tackle much to the displeasure of the home crowd who were expecting a yellow card – not sure that I would disagree with them. Collier replaces Sinckler, a wise move, and Joe Gray replaces Rob Buchanan as Mallinder kicks the ball into the corner. This time, Saints get it right as after a couple of phases of play they finally get over the Quins line for a try and go into the lead by two points with 68 minutes on the clock and only a few seconds before the return to the field of Charlie Matthews. Luckily, Quins are not punished any further as the conversion attempt by Mallinder inexplicitly hits the post, Saints 22 Quins 20. Quins now have another challenge, not only do they need to stay within 7 points of the Saints score but also stop them from scoring a fourth try.

Hartley is replaced by Haywood and we now have two Dicksons on the pitch. Quins restart but soon find themselves back in their own half defending a Saints line out and although it is won by Quins, Dickson senior kicks the ball directly into touch. Saints are now definitely playing with much more intensity and the Quins defence has its work cut out to keep them at bay. With 8 minutes to play the Saints attack breaks down as the ball is knocked on which is an opportunity for Mulchrone and Ward to replace Dickson and Wallace. A series of reset scrums, with the clock ticking by, results in a penalty to Quins which gives them a chance to relieve the Saints pressure when Swiel finds touch on the halfway line as Alofa Alofa replaces Marland Yard. Quins lose the line out and Dickson junior kicks but the ball is well taken by Mike Brown who kicks deep enabling Saints to attack again. With a few minutes to go you get the impression that Saints are trying too hard as the ball continues to get turned over at crucial times but on 79 minutes Saints are awarded a penalty for Ward tackling Mallinder in the air.

This has to be the last roll of the dice for Saints as Mallinder finds touch 15 metres from the Quins line. Lawes wins the line out and as the clock goes into the red the Quins defence keeps Saints at bay until Picamoles (of all people) loses the ball allowing Mulchrone to boot the ball into the stand. A huge sigh of relief from the Quins travelling supporters but it seems to take a few seconds for the Quins players to realise that even though they have lost the game, they have collected the bigger prize. That was certainly a great advert for the game of rugby and the match was finely poised throughout with no doubt both teams wondering what might have been had one or two results gone their way during the season. Picamoles was definitely the Man of the Match for me and it can only be good for the English game if Saints manage to fight off the attention of Montpellier and he remains at Franklins Gardens.

So what about Quins in the 150th year? It must go down as a disappointing season tempered slightly by qualifying for the Champions Cup next season. Realistically we would have hoped for much more from the Challenge Cup this season but lost games against Edinburgh put paid to that. From my point of view there had definitely been an improvement in performance during the last three games of the season, albeit that we lost two of them, but we are still unable to consistently display the same form as the top sides.  There is some tremendous talent in the Quins squad with bucket loads of experience so now it is time for the players and coaching staff to take that long hard look at themselves and prepare for next season.

It has been good to see George Lowe around the squad for the recent games, hopefully a sign that he will be back playing for Quins next season, and nice to see Matt Hopper sitting with the Quins squad. Also a nice touch after the game as Saints players departing from the club this season were presented with framed shirts, something that Quins would do well to replicate.

Last word goes to the Quins supporters who made Franklins Gardens sound like The Stoop at times during the match, it is great to be a part of it. 

 

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS