Harlequins 37 Northampton Saints 19
This was hands down the barmiest match of the Premiership season. Harlequins secured a bonus point at the death having being down to 13 men at one stage with Northampton finding ever more innovative ways to spurn opportunity after opportunity in the second half.
Fittingly, the last score was from a lineout inside the Harlequins 22. Martin Landajo’s box kick was deflected, took a kindly bounce into the hands of Brett Herron who exchanged passes with Luke Northmore to go the distance. It was that type of game. Not that it would have been everyone’s cup of tea. You can imagine Eddie Jones having a severe case of indigestion witnessing this blizzard of turnovers, interceptions and tap and goes. And that was just in the 22s.
Yet the England head coach is going to find it hard not to be swayed by Marcus Smith’s performances at some point in the near future. The Harlequins fly-half has been at the heart of the club’s renaissance since Paul Gustard’s departure which has seen the London club win five of their last six to climb to third in the table. Again he showcased his ability to attack the gainline, making 78 metres with ball in hand, and his accuracy off the tee, kicking 15 points.
But the most impressive aspect of his performance was his attitude in defence as he racked up a game-high 16 tackles to earn a seal of approval from Harlequins defence coach Jerry Flannery.
“It is important he can be effective on both sides of the ball,” Flannery said. “When you are as talented as him teams will say ‘let’s run at Marcus Smith’ and he put in some good shots today. If he wants to play Test rugby he has got to be consistent with that every week and that is the ambition he has.
“I rate him very highly. Eddie Jones is the guy who decides whether he plays Test rugby or not at the moment but you would be hard pressed to find a more talented player at fly-half but that is down to Eddie Jones.”
The tone for the match was set by a madcap opening in which four tries (and a penalty) were scored inside the first 13 minutes. Tom Collins was first to go over, capitalising off an excellent line from Fraser Dingwall from a set piece move. Then Quins scored two in three minutes with Tyrone Green latching on to Danny Care’s grubber before captain Stephan Lewies powered over from close range. Both tries came from Northampton turnovers inside their own half.
Centre Dingwall, who has had wretched luck with injuries, was again the architect of Northampton’s next try with a couple of wonderful steps to set up scrum half Tom James. Harlequins finished the first half strongly, Mike Brown cut a strong line at speed to plough over before Smith’s penalty just before half time extended their lead to 27-12.
Northampton thought they had a route back into the game on 47 minutes when Ollie Sleightholme capitalised on a turnover to run it from halfway, immediately after Harlequins had turned over Saints inside their 22. But that proved to be their last score despite countless trips to the Harlequins 22 as first Jack Kenningham and then Alex Dombrandt were sin-binned for Harlequins.
“To come away with no points is disappointing,” Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd said. “I wasn't expecting to win at the end there, we were a fair way away, but it would have been nice to score one of the opportunities that we created at the back end of the game.”