Drahm books play-off place

Northampton 18 Harlequins 17
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The Independent Online

In the end the Saints stumbled rather than marched into third place and a Zurich Premiership semi-final against the champions Wasps at Wycombe next Sunday. But on this showing Northampton will give their hosts a great deal to think about.

In the end the Saints stumbled rather than marched into third place and a Zurich Premiership semi-final against the champions Wasps at Wycombe next Sunday. But on this showing Northampton will give their hosts a great deal to think about.

Harlequins scrabbled a bonus point after the wing George Harder scored a try in the eighth minute of added time, but it was immaterial. The damage had already been done and Quins now face a daunting Wildcard semi-final at Leicester next Saturday.

Quins were repeatedly harried and hassled off the ball by Saints' superb scrum-half Mark Robinson, who had the opposition cover wavering and wobbling every time he got his hands on the ball. Invariably they failed to read his intent. The Londoners looked more nervous - given what was at stake that was probably understandable. Quins still had the penalty count on their side, but never profited in a position from which they could do any harm.

The one occasion that they did attempt a counterattack, midway through the first half, Andy Dunne's return pass to Mel Deane was knocked forward and into the clutches of Saints' England wing Ben Cohen. He waded through a few tackles and offloaded to Robinson, whose brilliant one-handed flick was picked up by the flanker Darren Fox, who pounded upfield for the try to add to Shane Drahm's earlier penalties.

Harlequins were back in the hunt within 20 seconds of the start of the second half, when lock Jim Evans charged down Drahm's kick and followed up for the touchdown. Dunne, though, missed the conversion and Saints knuckled down to some disciplined play, working their way back upfield to more familiar territory - the Quins half.

The visitors' scrum took a lot of pressure, finally cracking after a sustained spell of torture, and referee Roy Maybank awarded Northampton a penalty try which Drahm converted.

It looked all over, but gamely Quins fought their way back and despite losing a second line-out on the trot with full-time looming, they somehow contrived to regain possession in midfield. The centre Mel Deane first sliced across the Saints defence before cutting through to feed the full-back Gavin Duffy for a try which added a little respectability to what was, by their own high standards, a below par performance.

Northampton: N Beal; J Clarke (M Tucker, 66), A Vilk, J Leslie, B Cohen; S Drahm (J Brooks, 80), M Robinson; T Smith, S Thompson (capt), T Taumoepeau (R Morris, 54), M Lord (J Phillips, 69), M Connors, A Blowers, G Seely, D Fox (M Soden, 74-75).

Harlequins: G Duffy; G Harder, C Bell, M Deane, U Monye; A Dunne, S Keogh (S Bemand, 62); C Jones (J Leonard, 49), J Hayter (C Dott, 40), J Dawson (L Gomez, 49), K Rudzki (S Miall, 62), J Evans, P Sanderson, K Horstmann (T Diprose, 72), A Vos (capt).

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).

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