Jim Mallinder reflected for a moment on the possibility of meeting Harlequins one more time this season, in the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham on May 25. For that to happen, both the away teams in next weekend's play-offs have to win but Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby, quite likes the notion.
"We can go and spoil people's unbeaten home records," he said, referring to next Sunday's opponents, Saracens. Likewise Harlequins can review their recent record at Welford Road, where they will play Leicester on Saturday, and like what they see: league wins there in 2011 and 2012 suggest that, if they are on form, they have nothing to fear.
There is a little iron, too, in the soul of Harlequins. They have been hurt that not one of their candidates for the Lions tour to Australia – Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and, at a push, Nick Easter – has been chosen and they seek, in what remains of the domestic season, to make a point.
Against Leicester, for example, Care will be matched against Ben Youngs, who has superseded him for England and the Lions. "Youngs is a quality player but it's all about the team," said Care, not trying to mask his disappointment. "We will back ourselves against anyone on our day." In creating two of his side's three tries, the scrum-half has already showed the best possible response.
Robshaw, if he has recovered from a twisted ankle, could run out against Tom Croft, another Lion. Harlequins will know, probably tomorrow, whether their indefatigable England captain will be fit. The club, however, will be sustained by the form showed against Northampton by Luke Wallace in a game where success at the breakdown made all the difference in Quins' 22-19 win.
Harlequins have not been so sound in defence as they were in 2011-12 and Northampton exposed them with two tries in six minutes midway through the second half.
"We switched off for 10 minutes and that won't be good enough next week," Conor O'Shea, their director of rugby, said. "We have to turn up with the mindset we had today but we have to do it for 80 minutes."
Northampton, who started this season like a train, have ended with the same number of points (65) which they garnered a year ago and occupy the same fourth place in the table. But they have scored fewer points overall and, like Harlequins, have been more fallible in defence: last year, you suspect, Ben Foden would have denied Tom Williams the opening try but here he misjudged a bouncing ball completely.
The bounce will be more true on the artificial surface at Allianz Park, the home of Saracens where Northampton have never played. "That's an unknown for us but we won't go there worried about it," Mallinder said. Their away record this season includes victories at all three West Country clubs, Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs and Bath, and famously at Ulster in the Heineken Cup. Surely Allianz Park in Barnet will not be more hostile than Ravenhill.
Scorers: Harlequins: Tries Williams, Buchanan, Casson. Conversions Evans 2. Penalty Evans. Northampton: Tries Elliott, Hartley, Day. Conversions Myler 2.
Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams (R Chisholm, 65), G Lowe, T Casson, U Monye; N Evans (B 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), L Wallace, N Easter (captain).
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 (T Mercey, 63), D Hartley (M Haywood, 72), B Mujati (A Waller, 63), C Lawes, C Day, C Clark (P Dowson, 63), T Wood, S Manoa (G-J van Velze, 63).
Referee: T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).Reuse content