Rugby Union: Lam wrecks Quins' record

Harlequins 17 Northampton 24
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The Independent Online
THEY DO not come much tighter than this. But when two of the best recent records in the Allied Dunbar Premiership meet head-on something has to give. In this case it was the irresistible force of the galvanic Northampton side which overran the immovable object of Harlequins' run of form.

Typically it was the dynamic Western Samoan international Pat Lam who scored the decisive try, a dark-shirted bruise on Quins' proud home record - they had won all seven previous Premiership One matches at the Stoop.

It was Lam's ninth try in the competition this season and Paul Grayson's conversion was added security. Sure Harlequins countered. Replacement centre Peter Mensah had home hopes soaring as he stormed through the opposition shortly afterwards, but full-back Jamie Williams could not hang on to the pass.

But as spirited as Quins' performance had been, and they looked very sharp at times, Saints fully deserved their victory, which keeps them level on points with leaders Leicester. Quins slip back a little further into the mid-table mire.

There had been a ragged look to the Northampton side in the early exchanges. Line-outs went Harlequins way and the Londoners also proved difficult to contain in the loose, with hooker Keith Wood his usual prominent self.

Quins' points-machine John Schuster - he now has 247 this season - gave his side the lead after seven minutes. England wing Dan Luger burst upfield and covered 75 yards in a run which saw him evade futile attempts at tackles, even the great Lam was left floundering. Eventually Luger was stopped but Schuster was on hand to finish things off and he then converted his own try.

Quins' captain Zinzan Brooke wisely opted for a scrum when his side were awarded a penalty some 10 metres short of the Northampton line. Saints at that point were down to 14 men after second row Jon Phillips was sent to the sin bin. Five draining scrums later the seven-man visitors' pack finally crumpled under the effort and conceded a penalty try, which Schuster converted.

But Saints began to get their act together. Grayson, having already thumped over a 16th-minute penalty, then swayed and swerved his way through some inept Quins' cover for a try which he too converted.

Northampton began the second half in far more assertive fashion, pressing upfield from the start. Harlequins found themselves being turned and having to defend desperately at times. But for all their superiority Saints could not march over the line. On a couple of occasions they let the home side off the hook and Thierry Lacroix and Schuster, at different times, were able to hoof the ball out of danger.

It was from one of these forays that Quins went further ahead through the most remarkable piece of play seen for some time. In the 51st minute Quins' hooker Wood received the ball in space, looked up and calm as you please dropped the neatest of goals. Quins were cock-a-hoop.

It proved the goad that Northampton required. Back they went, trundling into the Quins half. There was a fair amount of heavy duty close-quarter work and Freddy Mendez, the burly Argentine front row had three bullish attempts to barrel his way over the line. It was at the third that Saints finally prevailed when Gary Pagel, the Saints prop, picked up where Mendez had left off and bored under the press of defenders and over the line. Grayson's conversion brought the match back to an even keel and the match really began to throb and rock its way to that thrilling finish.

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, J Keyter (P Mensah, 66), J Schuster, D Luger; T Lacroix, H Harries (N Walshe, 76); J Leonard, K Wood, G Halpin (D Barnes, 66), G Morgan (Davison, 79), G Llewellyn, Z Brooke (capt), C Sheasby, R Jenkins.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, A Blyth, M Allen, B Cohen; P Grayson, M Dawson (capt); G Pagel, F Mendez, M Stewart, R Metcalfe, J Phillps, G Seely, P Lam, B Pountney.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).