Kyle Sinckler’s almost superhuman feats of ball-carrying were the highlights of a scrappy match as Harlequins made it three home wins out of three this season and lifted themselves away from the lower reaches of the Premiership.
Northampton had disappointingly little to offer as an attacking force, apart from one searing break by their full-back Ahsee Tuala, and the threat of George North out wide – so evident in the previous week’s defeat of Exeter Chiefs – was almost completely unrealised.
Nick Evans’s goal-kicking was a notch off the highest standard as the former All Blacks fly-half suffered an awful miss from point blank range followed by another further out, either side, of a three-pointer that put Harlequins in front in the seventh minute.
Eventually Evans would hobble off and his replacement Tim Swiel fared better in the second half, reprising his impressive efforts in the famous victory over Saracens here a fortnight ago.
There was significant disruption to Harlequins in the front row, too, with Joe Marler a late withdrawal from the starting line-up with a back spasm after taking part in the much discussed England training camp at the start of the week, and his understudy Mark Lambert lasting only six minutes before going off injured.
That ushered on Adam Jones to make an unexpected appearance on the loosehead side of the Quins scrum, and there were two set-piece penalties whistled against the venerable Wales and British Lions tighthead prop before half-time.
Brilliantly for Jones, and to the acclaim of a Stoop crowd who took time, understandably, to find their voices, the roles were reversed in the second 40 minutes as Northampton buckled in the scrum.
And the starting tighthead prop Sinckler was repeatedl a withering presence with the ball in hand, driving into the guts of the Northampton defence.
Another fillip for Quins was that Saints’ No 10 Steve Myler was no more accurate from the tee than Evans, with two good chances striking a post after 32 minutes and drifting wide just before the interval.
So despite Northampton collecting two penalty goals by Myler midway through the first half, they remained 8-6 behind at the break thanks to the solitary sequence of sustained brilliance. Evans completely foxed Luther Burrell with a show-and-go to release Tim Visser, and the Scotland wing sent Samoa centre Alofa Alofa clear for what would be the only try of the match.
There was a sniff of another try from Quins when Karl Dickson, starting in place of the injured Danny Care, came very close to latching onto a punt from Visser, as Myler waited for the ball to go dead. Up the other end a couple of belting tackles from Quins lock George Merrick – one on Courtney Lawes, one on Myler – helped keep the home goalline intact.
Four penalty goals by the Somerset-born, South African-raised, English-qualified Swiel punished Saints for a variety of ruck and maul offences, as the old heads in the multi-coloured jerseys – the likes of Chris Robshaw, James Horwill and Jamie Roberts – combined with the younger Luke Wallace and James Chisholm to play smart rugby on the front foot.
Myler kicked a third penalty for Saints in the 67th minute, at which stage Quins led 14-9, but a silly ruck offence conceded by Michael Paterson soon afterwards symptomized Northampton’s comparative disarray, not helped by their hooker and England captain Dylan Hartley continuing his absence with a back injury.
Sinckler’s rampaging carry past a batch of Northampton white jerseys was one rousing moment, even as the prop who toured with England in the summer was clearly nursing a sore shoulder. When the 23-year-old took too long to get up after another clattering collision, he was persuaded by medics and the referee to give way to replacement Will Collier - and was received a deserved standing ovation.
While the watching England head coach Eddie Jones must have been reflecting on the national team’s strength in propping positions, Quins almost had the perfect finish, only for Ben Foden’s flick of a fingertip to prevent Mike Brown linking with Visser on the left. Foden might have been shown a yellow card, but as it was in the last minute, and Visser’s next act was to kick the ball dead for the final whistle on a satisfying win, Harlequins could not have cared less.
Harlequins: Try: Alofa; Penalties: Evans, Swiel 4. Northampton Saints: Penalties: Myler 3.
Harlequins: Harlequins: M Brown; M Yarde, A Alofa, J Roberts (rep J Marchant, 9-15 mins), T Visser; N Evans (T Swiel 41), L Dickson; M Lambert (A Jones 7), R Buchanan (J Gray 77), K Sinckler (W Collier 70), G Merrick (S Twomey 73), J Horwill (capt), C Robshaw, L Wallace, J Chisholm (M Luamanu 73).
Northampton Saints: A Tuala (B Foden 60); K Pisi, G Pisi, L Burrell, G North; S Myler (S Olver 75), N Groom (L Dickson 51); A Waller (E Waller 69), M Haywood (C Clare 75), K Brookes (P Hill 56), C Lawes, M Paterson (S Dickinson 73), T Wood (capt), C Clark (L Picamoles 53), T Harrison.
Referee: I Tempest (RFU)Reuse content