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Northmore and Porter edge Harlequins to win over Northampton in thriller
Rugby union Sport

Northmore and Porter edge Harlequins to win over Northampton in thriller

These two will be representing English rugby in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup next weekend. If this is anything to go by, they will not just do their country proud, they will astonish.

It almost goes without saying in the Premiership nowadays, certainly when considering either of these two, that this was extraordinary rugby. Where to start? Ten tries, 73 points, bonus points all round and a contest that seesawed with the wind. Right up to the end. The speed and precision with which these two ran free across Twickenham’s wide open spaces until the final whistle was breathtaking. And that was just to watch.

In the end, Harlequins took the win – mainly because they had to. It keeps them in the chase for fourth place, now a mere six points shy of Northampton at the top. As the queue backs up for a place in the playoffs, still they sit just outside, courtesy of one win fewer than Bristol, whose comeback win at Welford Road keeps them in fourth, level on points with Quins.

Northampton remain top, but the gap between them and the cheap seats is just those six points now, with two games to play. The last kick of the game restricted them to one bonus point. Courtney Lawes’s try with three minutes remaining had secured them two, only for Jarrod Evans’s penalty at the death to take one of those away.

But that seems trivial detail in the context of what unfolded, Quins entertaining nearly 60,000 at the big stadium with six tries, despite spending half an hour down to 14 men, with yellow cards shown to Danny Care and Louis Lynagh in the first half and Tyrone Green in the second. That they turned around at half-time six points ahead was some achievement, given those two yellow cards, Care’s for a clash of heads with Lawes, which was harsh, and Lynagh’s for a deliberate knockdown, which could have gone either way.

Luke Northmore had opened the scoring in the second minute, after dazzling hands down Quins’ left and a perfect Marcus Smith cross-kick to the loitering centre out wide. Quins survived both first-half spells down to 14 without conceding, but Ollie Sleightholme struck at the end of the first quarter, another try of invention and precision, to earn Saints the lead, which they held for most of the second quarter. Quins snatched it back five minutes from the break, when Stephan Lewies finished a series of close-quarter charges with Quins’ third.

Saints thought they had scored again on the stroke of half-time. More brilliant hands sent Lawes galloping down the left. Sam Graham reached out to score from close range himself, but there had been a marginal knock-on at the phase before.

Quins’ bonus-point try, when Cadan Murley picked a fine line off Smith, seemed to have settled matters in favour of the home team. But of course it served merely to inspire the visitors, who had the lead back within 20 minutes. More brilliant hands down the left released Sleightholme, before further neat handling sent James Ramm to the posts. Green saw yellow, this time without argument, for a deliberate knock-on, and Saints scored their third while he was away, Tom Litchfield worked over.

Care almost certainly would have been shown yellow in the final quarter, had he not been on such a harsh one already, but his old teammate, referee Karl Dickson, managed to control the hand that reached instinctively for his pocket, when Care took out Alex Mitchell at an attacking ruck. Care survived the inquest, but was promptly removed for Will Porter, who proceeded to score a brace of tries to clinch the match.

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Lewies went blind from a ruck to put Porter over in the corner for the first, before Jarrod Evans, on for Smith, broke to send him clear for the second with five remaining. Surely that was that?

No. Lawes brought Saints back to within six with his blindside hustle to the line for the bonus-point try. Evans’s penalty at the death, though, relieved the visitors of a losing bonus point and kept matters at the top as tight to bursting as they deserve to be in this remarkable domestic season. Can there be anything left for Europe?

Source: theguardian.com