April was a wicked month for Harlequins – dismissal from Europe and not a Lion in sight – but the Aviva Premiership champions are where they want to be. Well, not precisely where they want to be: they are in the play-offs and able to defend their title, but they must start to do so away to Leicester at Welford Road next Saturday.
"This team will be ready and will give it an absolute crack," Conor O'Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby, said, though he will not know until tomorrow or Tuesday whether Chris Robshaw will be available. Robshaw, captain of club and country, aims to start running tomorrow after ankle damage sustained against Worcester.
"He's desperate to play, to get out and do what he does best after the disappointment [non-selection for the Lions tour to Australia] of last Tuesday," O'Shea said. "But if he doesn't make it, Luke Wallace had a magnificent game against Northampton and it's nice to have three wins in a row to eke our way back to form."
Wallace was central to the revival of Harlequins' passing game, and to the difficulties Saints found at the breakdown. They might have known it would not be their day when Stephen Myler put the kick-off straight into touch, and they were twice turned over in the opening minutes. But, just when the game looked to be going away from them, Northampton bounced back with two tries in six minutes to shake Harlequins.
After the opening penalty salvo from Nick Evans, the bounce of a grub-kick by Danny Care comprehensively beat Ben Foden, giving Tom Williams the first try. Though Foden got his own back when his kick laid on a score for Jamie Elliott, Quins rolled into a 17-point lead early in the second half with tries by Rob Buchanan (which owed much to the work of George Robson and Wallace) and Tom Casson, which stemmed from Care's tapped penalty and dart deep into the Northampton 22.
But Northampton, who had a first-half try by Ken Pisi disallowed for obstruction, showed they will not be easy-beats on their first visit to Allianz Park to play Saracens in next Sunday's semi-final.
They created tries for Dylan Hartley and Christian Day, the second after they finally discovered some continuity: "We have been away to various sides as underdogs this season, notably Ulster, and turned them over," Jim Mallinder, the head coach, said ominously.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams (R Chisholm, 65), G Lowe, T Casson, U Monye; N Evans ( Botica, 63), D Care (K Dickson, 63); J Marler (M Lambert, 57), R Buchanan (J Gray, 52), J Johnston (W Collier, 69), O Kohn (C Matthews, 64), G Robson, T Guest (M Fa'asavalu, 52), N Easter (capt), L Wallace.
Northampton B Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi (J Wilson, 29), L Burrell, J Elliott (R Lamb, 72); S Myler, L Dickson (M Roberts, 65); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 63), D Hartley (capt; M Haywood, 72), B Mujati (T Mercey, 63), C Lawes, C Day, C Clark (P Dowson, 63), S Manoa (G J van Velze, 63), T Wood.
Referee T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).
Tries: Williams, Buchanan, Casson
Cons: Evans 2
Tries: Elliott, Hartley, Day
Cons: Myler 2