For a couple of hours or so, Northampton suffered the indignity of seeing Bath ahead of them at the top of the Premiership. They restored the status quo with a display of controlled aggression that has become their hallmark over the last 18 months.
Harlequins may have enjoyed 74 per cent possession but there was no doubt who was turning the screw. That much of the entertainment derived from Tim Swiel’s ability to light the blue touchpaper for the home side is true, but when Northampton were in the opposing 22 they were able to finish.
They did so through the driving maul, which used to be so characteristic of their near neighbours, Leicester. But they also read the Harlequins attack well and made good decisions in defence, never more than when they were reduced by a yellow card to 14 men and ended the period 10 points to the good.
“It’s been a difficult week mentally for the players,” said Jim Mallinder, Saints’ director of rugby. “Christmas, disciplinary issues, travelling away to play before a capacity crowd, but sometimes when you do that you don’t have to play much rugby. We got a grip in the second half.”
The game could scarcely have started better for Harlequins and George Lowe, the centre who has suffered so much misfortune through injury this year. Knifing through midfield on a 40-metre break, he gave his forwards a glimpse of the try line, David Ward and Jack Clifford were not slow to take advantage and overhead passes by Marland Yarde and Mike Brown gave Lowe the chance to slide into the corner.
Swiel and Stephen Myler exchanged penalties before the Saints pivotconverted a try by Samu Manoa, who was on the end of a lineout maul. Even though Northampton lost Salesi Ma’afu to the sin bin for a high tackle on Lowe, they are accustomed to operating short-handed and did so to great effect.
Myler kicked a second penalty just before the interval and just after it Swiel missed a penalty and, moments later, found his clearance charged down by Manoa, who regathered to send in George North for the first try the Wales wing has scored at Twickenham. The No 10s swapped penalties and Quins closed the gap when Clifford finished a period of sustained pressure with his side’s second try.
“Even though we lost we feel we’ve turned a corner,” Conor O’Shea, Quins’ director, said.
Northampton enjoyed the sight of England prop Alex Corbisiero emerging from a shoulder injury for his first appearance since late September; he was denied a try of his own but Kahn Fotuali’i was worked over for the try that made Northampton safe.
Sam Twomey swooped for a try from Danny Care’s tap, but Northampton saw out a nervous final five minutes.
Harlequins: M Brown; M Yarde, M Hopper, G Lowe, U Monye (R Chisholm 68); T Swiel, D Care; M Lambert, D Ward (J Gray 68), W Collier, C Matthews, G Robson (S Twomey 64), J Trayfoot, J Clifford (J Chisholm 78), N Easter (capt).
Northampton: B Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi (T Stephenson 49), L Burrell, G North; S Myler, L Dickson (K Fotuali’i 55; J Wilson 73); A Waller (A Corbisiero 55), M Haywood, S Ma’afu (G Denman 61), S Dickinson (Denman 40-44), C Day, C Clark (P Dowson 61), T Wood (capt), S Manoa.
Referee: W Barnes (RFU).Reuse content