â€œ I feel like I’ve really improved as a player, really benefited from being around good players and good coaches, long may it continue, I’ll hopefully get to 200â€ said Tom Wood.
All eyes were on the return of the Internationals for Northampton on Friday night and what a bench it was. With Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes returning from injury, this was their time to shine and in front of a packed house of 13,362 at the Gardens, they certainly didnâ€™t disappoint; with Wood becoming the latest centurion and Lawes being named MOTM in his 150th game for the Saints.
What a way to catapult themselves back into action. An absolutely amazing achievement gentlemen.
The Harlequins travelled to Franklin’s Gardens with confidence and it showed. It was a physical first-half with the visitors showing their intent, momentum and dominance in possession. Nick Evans got the game under way, putting the first points on the board with a successful penalty kick. Quins then continued to work hard, going through the motions, flooding through the channel on the attack but their sideways play didn’t enable them to make the yards. So Saints made it count and gaining possession, they drove over the line in a surging rolling maul led by none other than Samu Manoa, scoring his 10th try this season. Stephen Myler added the extras but it was a half full of pressure from the visitors and a narrow one point lead, 7-6.
Quins were competing strongly at the breakdown and at every given opportunity they slowed the ball down to prevent Northampton playing the game they wanted to. Saints lacked their usual spark, taken by surprise and not responding to Quinâ€™s dynamism; some had notions that the flood gates would open … I wasn’t so optimistic.
Well, my optimism did return when show-stopper James Wilson broke the dam to slide over as Franklin’s Gardens roared, thirteen minutes into the second half. And when Kyle Sinckler further dampened Quinsâ€™ efforts with a dangerous sliding tackle on Samu Manoa with no intent to use his arms, that saw him yellow carded, minutes after Wilson’s try.
A shame really, given Quinâ€™s efforts and their constant pressure at set piece. Quins down to 14 men, saw International Tom Wood lead a second driving maul over the try line in the last quarter of the game. A superb effort from Wood and his merry men to open up the scoreboard… if only slightly.
And when Saints thought it was game over and switched off, Harlequins were determined to play to the death â€“ keeping the ball alive past the 80-minute mark – and it was Marland Yarde who finished the game in style with a breakaway and skilful try but it was too late to save the day.
Full Time: Northampton Saints 17-13 Harlequins
Harlequins efforts away from home were outstanding.
As for Northampton, this was a close call on home turf – and not a Championship winning performance by any means. Maybe too snug in their own comfort zone but they got the job done, just.
On a separate note, it was fantastic to see the return of Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes who’ve been chomping at the bit to return to the pitch. It was thrilling to see them launch themselves back into the game and I’m sure Stuart Lancaster will come knocking soon.
For now though, Saints need to refocus as they head to Kingsholm next weekend, a tough place to play against a tough side who will challenge Northampton across the park … game on!
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk