Harlequins 25 Northampton Saints 30 - Tom Vickers’ verdict and player ratings

ALL SMILES - Luther Burrell enjoys the win at Twickenham (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)
ALL SMILES - Luther Burrell enjoys the win at Twickenham (Pictures: Sharon Lucey)
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Ken Pisi described it as ‘average’, Tom Wood said his side were a long way off their best and Jim Mallinder admitted Saints were far from impressed with their performance.

Meanwhile, the murmurs from the Harlequins camp suggested this was one of their best performances of the season.

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-191822009

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-191822009

In fact, if you hadn’t seen the game and only listened to the post-match reaction, you could have been forgiven for thinking the home team had prevailed at Twickenham.

That they didn’t and that Saints were disappointed with a 30-25 win in front of crowd of more than 80,000 shows just what kind of standards are set at Franklin’s Gardens these days.

It also shows why Mallinder’s men were crowned champions at Twickenham back in May.

They are champions because they find ways to win when not at their best.

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-185001009

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-185001009

They are champions because they can rock up to the backyard of one of their traditional rivals for a top four place and lay down a marker.

They are champions because they only need 26 per cent of possession to win a game.

They are champions because they can endure an energy-sapping 80 minutes one week and then follow it up with another seven days later.

Yes, this trip Twickenham could have almost been a game too far after the gargantuan display that saw off Leicester a week earlier.

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-191833009

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-191833009

But Saints, blighted by a virus that has swept their camp in recent weeks, stepped up and showed similar character and desire to get the job done once again.

That is why they are champions.

They have won nine of their 11 league games this season, sitting proudly atop the Premiership pile at the end of a memorable 12 months.

They have been the best English side by some distance during 2014, with stability providing plenty of success.

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-184951009

Saints V Harlequins. NNL-141227-184951009

There was no chopping and changing during the summer - and this band of brothers have benefited from that.

The squad is saturated with big-game players and big-game experience.

And at Big Game 7, that proved vital as the likes of George North, Kahn Fotuali’i and, in particular, Samu Manoa stood up to be counted.

Those three men etched their names on a star-studded scoresheet that also included 15 points from the boot of the metronomic Stephen Myler.

And while Quins scored three tries of their own, they didn’t quite have enough to see off the league leaders.

It was telling that on Saturday, Saints, Saracens and Leicester all claimed narrow wins away from home.

Those sides are habitual victors in difficult circumstances.

Saints have become masters of coming through the toughest of challenges.

In the Premiership final, the odds continued to stack against them.

Saracens were in front early and late, but still Saints scored when it mattered most to clinch the title.

They showed similar champion spirit on their return to HQ on Saturday.

And although they were far from happy with the performance, they will be delighted with the result and where it leaves them heading into the new year.

The champions won’t let their crown go without a fight.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

A week of playing different roles, including one in Hollyoaks, ended with the full-back playing scrum-half at Twickenham. A good display... 7

KEN PISI

Didn’t get the chance to threaten as much as against Leicester a week earlier, but used what ball he did get well... 7

GEORGE PISI

Signalled his intentions with a huge hit on Mike Brown inside the opening minute and continued to play the power game until being replaced... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Another strong performance from the centre, who thrived at Twickenham once again. Made some big hits.... 7

GEORGE NORTH

May be disappointed to have seen Jack Clifford beat him and score, but, aside from that, the Wales wing was impressive and he grabbed a fine try... 7

STEPHEN MYLER

Was typically brilliant with the boot and was a calm head on an evening when Quins did their best to rattle Saints... 8

LEE DICKSON

Was a sparky presence and showed plenty of desire as he cajoled the forwards and directed the backs with some sharp passing... 7

ALEX WALLER

Returned to the scene of his Premiership-winning score and enjoyed his 55 minutes on the field, putting himself about as much as he could... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

Stepped in for Dylan Hartley once again, and once again performed admirably, rarely missing a lineout and imposing himself on the game in open play... 7

SALESI MA’AFU

Will regret the high tackle he made on George Lowe as Saints were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes, though it didn’t prove costly in the end... 6

SAM DICKINSON

Came in for Courtney Lawes and ensured Saints didn’t lose anything by putting in a typically imposing performance... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

Was a crucial figure, standing tall in defence and ensuring Saints kept control of the lineout as they used their forward power to good effect... 8

CALUM CLARK

A typically menacing presence at the breakdown, helping to relieve some of the pressure on Saints and defending stoically... 8

TOM WOOD

Led the team superbly once again and relished the physical battle, putting in some key hits and getting over the ball quickly... 8

SAMU MANOA - CHRON STAR MAN

Scored Saints’ opening try and added a moment of brilliance to provide one for North. A dominant presence throughout... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

TOM STEPHENSON (for G Pisi 48)

Only got a couple of chances to stretch his legs and fly at the Quins rearguard as the home side did most of the attacking... 6

ALEX CORBISIERO (for A Waller 55)

Was back in action for the first time since September and almost grabbed a try, being denied at the last on a couple of occasions... 7

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 55)

Razor sharp in the short time he was on the field and showed good awareness and bravery to grab Saints’ crucial third try... 7