March 29 2016
After a chastening reverse against Exeter Chiefs last time out, Northampton Saints recovered their mojo back at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday afternoon and completed the league double over Harlequins. COYSDC stalwart Howlin looks back on the game...
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 29 - 23 HARLEQUINS
Sunday, 27th March 2016
FRANKLIN'S GARDENS, NORTHAMPTON
Quins Quintessentially Quashed
Come all without, come all within, you’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quin !
Well these Quins haven’t been so mighty lately, due largely to missing several players during the six nations. Still one of the league’s top teams capable of beating anyone on their day, Quins have demonstrated over the past few weeks, to the uninitiated, why we have play offs in the Aviva Premiership. Saints haven’t suffered as much this year from absentees and have been able to put together a decent run of results during this period to re-establish their credentials as top four challengers, whilst Quins dropped slowly down the table to cling on in sixth.
It was no surprise therefore that O’Shea unusually decided to rush all his internationals back into the match day squad for what was looking like a “must win game” for both sides if they were to stand any chance of reaching the play offs. Saints too welcomed back Kieran Brookes and George North, whilst the Grand Slam Captain, Dylan Hartley put his feet up hopefully recovering from a nasty bang on the head and enduring the concussion protocols. Both teams were up for it, both teams came to play, (and scrummage properly !) and this resulted in one of the most open and entertaining games seen by the Franklin's Gardens crowd (which included Eddie Jones and Roger Uttley) this season.
So as Easter arrived at the Gardens we were promised typical bank holiday weather of swirling winds and torrential rain. Thankfully on a rare occasion this season, the rugby Gods smiled on us. Although the wind did indeed swirl the rain held off apart from one short shower and Easter was firmly dumped on his ‘arris as his team were vanquished by the resurgent Saints. In fact he looked more like the Easter bunny caught in the headlights as Ben Foden tracked him down in what was one of the highlights of the game for me late in the first half, as it encapsulated the determination and confidence that this squad is now showing as we reach the business end of the season.
Four well crafted tries by four different players, two forwards, two backs gave Saints a bonus point win that was well earned by resolute defence and ambitious attack. Tries by Quins either side of half time could be claimed as moments of individual brilliance by Quins or defensive lapses by Saints. In any event they were the only real pressure placed on Saints defence from a team containing many attacking options. Certainly Brookes paid the price for his defensive lapses being replaced very early in the second half by Hill despite his solid scrummaging and bullocking runs earlier on.
The Pisi brothers are showing a real return to form both in strong tackling and meaningful bursts through the gainline. Ken’s pass to Mallinder for the bonus point try was sublime. Luther Burrell is rising again, justifying the centre partnership selection, derided by some. Harrison is coming of age and Micky Haywood is making a big statement to the grand slam winning captain with a performance of strength, determination and guile.
Another debut in Campese Ma’afu blended seamlessly into the team as he replaced Alex Waller who completed, incredibly, his 112th successive appearance at such a young age.
The tries were punctuated by some strange penalty decisions by Mr Wriggle. Connor didn’t like him either, so perhaps he was balanced after all, but I struggle to see that given the balance of the penalty count and the one that gifted Quins the losing bonus point at the third attempt! At least he didn’t brandish cards like confetti as he has done in recent matches. I do however wish that Sir and his playmates had governed the offside line a tad more stringently. One of my personal bugbears, I am sure we would see much more expansive rugby if this was policed more efficiently.
However all in all a hugely encouraging performance from Saints against a top team who were leaving nothing on the pitch. Once we were down 12-20 it was one way traffic and the tries were sublime. This shows a real return of confidence and determination that may have been missing in one or two fixtures this season. There is still a lot of hard work to be done over the remainder of the season, starting with the small matter of an away fixture at in form Wasps next week. Nothing in life, or sport is guaranteed but there is always hope. But that is tomorrow.
During this Easter weekend Quin the Eskimo certainly got here, but the only ones jumping for joy were wearing the gold, black and green of Northampton Saints.
SAINTS Foden, K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North, Myler, Dickson (capt), A Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Craig, Lawes, Gibson, Wood, Harrison
Subs - Marshall, Ma’afu, Hill, Matfield, Dickinson, Fotualii, Hanrahan, Mallinder
QUINS Brown, Walker, Marchant, Roberts, Visser, Botica, Care (capt), Marler, Gray. Collier, Merrick, Horwill, Clifford, Wallace, Easter
Subs - Ward, Lambert, Sinckler, Luamanu, Robshaw, Dickson, Hopper, Chisholm
AS IT HAPPENED
8mins QUINS Pen Botica 0-3
12mins SAINTS Try A Waller 5-3
18mins QUINS Pen Botica 5-6
24mins SAINTS Try Lawes Con Myler 12-6
32mins QUINS Try Visser Con Botica 12-13
HALF-TIME SAINTS 12 HARLEQUINS 13
41mins QUINS Try Clifford Con Botica 12-20
46mins SAINTS Pen Myler 15-20
54mins SAINTS Try Foden Con Myler 22-20
73mins SAINTS Try Mallinder Con Myler 29-20
78mins QUINS Pen Botica 29-23
FULL-TIME SAINTS 29 HARLEQUINS 23