Northampton 23 Harlequins 26
Ian McGeechan found himself upstaged by his Lions' coaching assistant, Andy Keast, as Northampton squandered chance after chance and allowed Harlequins to escape with two Allied Dunbar Premiership points they never thought would be theirs once Will Carling limped off with a calf-muscle injury.
Keast is a graduate of the same school of thoroughness as McGeechan and played an important part in the Lions' victories in South Africa. A quiet Devonian, Keast, having led Natal to a Currie Cup triumph, has returned to England, taking over as director of rugby at The Stoop, following the controversial dismissal of Dick Best.
He correctly identified the line-out and midfield as areas where Northampton might be vulnerable, but with two rookie centres of his own who had never played together, the game looked to have slipped away from Quins when tries by Matt Dawson and Shem Tatupu hauled the home side back into contention at 26-23, with six minutes remaining.
But even the perspicacious Keast could not have forecast Saints' ability to self-destruct, and when Dawson relieved Gregor Towsend of the kicking duties, after the Scot had failed with five shots at goal, the Lions' scrum-half fired two kickable penalties wide.
Carling was injured in the act of scoring Quins' opening try, which brought Stuart Power into the centre to partner the Tongan Johnny Ngauamo. Power's first act was to cut down Craig Moir when a Northampton try looked certain, but this was one of several first-half opportunities that went begging.
"It was very disappointing to score three tries to their two and lose," McGeechan said. "We made too many unforced errors and gave Quins too many points, while missing too many we should have scored."
If only Dawson and Townsend had matched Lacroix's accuracy with the boot, Northampton would have won. But for Saints it was one of those maddeningly if-only days.
Northampton: Tries Phillips, Dawson, Tatupu; Conversion Dawson; Penalties Townsend 2. Harlequins: Tries Carling, O'Leary; Conversions Lacroix 2; Penalties Lacroix 4.
Northampton: I Hunter (H Thorneycroft, 60); C Moir, R MacNaughton, M Allen, N Beal; G Townsend, M Dawson; M Hynes (C Allen, 41), A Clarke (C Johnson, 60), M Stewart, M Bayfield, J Phillips, S Tatupu, B Pountney, T Rodber, capt (G Seely, 63)
Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, J Ngauamo, W Carling (S Power, 5), R Liley; T Lacroix, H Harries; A Ozdemir (M Cuttitta, 63), K Wood (Captain), J Leonard, G Llewellyn, L Gross, G Allison (R Jenkins, 41), L Cabannes, B Davison.
Referee: C White (Cheltenham).Reuse content