Northampton Saints 32 Harlequins 31: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Twenty seven minutes.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 30th April 2022, 11:54 am
Saints celebrated a memorable win at the Gardens on Friday night
Saints celebrated a memorable win at the Gardens on Friday night

Twenty seven minutes to bounce back from a five-point deficit.

Twenty seven minutes against the champions of England.

Twenty seven minutes with just one forward replacement to call upon.

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Twenty seven minutes with the tank emptying at a rapid rate.

Twenty seven minutes to keep the play-off bid alive.

Twenty seven minutes to send the Gardens faithful home happy.

And, in the end, twenty seven minutes of shut-out rugby that delivered the most memorable home win since the 2014 Premiership play-off semi-final.

This set of Saintsmen are some team.

They may not be the best team in the world just yet, but they have just as much character and courage as any side around.

When they suffered four successive defeats earlier this year - three in agonising fashion and one against their local rivals - it looked like their campaign was cooked.

They headed into a home game against Wasps still hoping for a top-four finish but with few outside of the club genuinely believing it could happen.

Fast forward almost two months and Saints secured a win that temporarily took them six points clear of fifth.

It is an incredible turnaround but it owes everything to the never-say-die attitude in this squad.

And during the past two weeks that has been more evident than ever.

Against Bath and Harlequins, there were times when the belief in the stands would have run out.

Saints were 31-12 down at The Rec with 15 minutes to go.

Surely there was no way back?

But the players never felt that way.

They lost Brandon Nansen to injury and somehow went on to score four tries, winning with the final play of a game that you felt couldn't be bettered.

Sometimes you have to wait six years for a game of such drama and such magnitude.

Saints waited just six days.

Harlequins came to town on the back of a six-match winning streak in the Premiership.

This is a team that has shown it wins games, no matter the circumstances and no matter the difficulty it faces.

But that is a description that can now apply to Saints, too.

And on Friday night they not only showed the style they have become renowned for under Chris Boyd, but immense substance, too.

Every player that took to the field contributed in some way.

Whether it was six minutes from Juarno Augustus, who carried into contact before being forced off, or Courtney Lawes, who stood out like a sore thumb for the full 80.

Saints were hit by injury after injury. Six men were forced from the field during various stages of the game.

But after Augustus was stuck inside his own half barely able to move, Saints scored.

After Conor Carey was stretchered off, Saints scored.

And after Paul Hill failed his HIA, Saints scored.

Alex Coles, Fraser Dingwall and George Furbank also took sizeable hits and had to come off, though Furbank did return for the dramatic denouement having passed his HIA.

And all the while, Saints stuck together to ride out the storm.

It seemed that they had run out of steam with 53 minutes gone as Quins scored a second try in quick succession at the start of the second half.

It felt like the Heineken Cup final of 2010, when Saints poured everything into the first period but had nothing left for the second.

However, from somewhere, this Saints team got a second wind.

They refused to let Quins register another point in that phenomenal final 27 minutes.

And they grabbed six of their own, thanks to the nerveless kicking of James Grayson, to spark wild scenes of celebration at the Gardens.

Grayson booted the ball into the same stand that Myler had done when confirming that win against Tigers almost eight years ago.

That night, Saints booked their place at Twickenham, where they would eventually beat Saracens in the Premiership final.

And while this victory hasn't secured a trip to HQ, it has taken Saints a sizeable step closer.

How they rated...GEORGE FURBANKAn exceptional display from the full-back, who not only scored with a fantastic finish but who also made a huge try-saving tackle on the gargantuan Andre Esterhuizen... 9

MATT PROCTORWhat a way to mark his 50th Saints appearance as he delivered a whirlwind first-half performance that would have been capped with a try had he not suffered a huge slice of bad luck with a slip in the in-goal area... 9

FRASER DINGWALLIt's fitting that this guy has got the word 'wall' in his name because that is what he is, in attack and defence... 8.5

RORY HUTCHINSONContinually pulled the strings for Saints but perhaps the most impressive part of this performance was the physicality he brought to the table at times... 9

TOMMY FREEMANThe young wing is pure class, and he caused Quins plenty of problems, grabbing yet another try for his team... 9

JAMES GRAYSON - CHRON STAR MANAn absolutely epic showing at fly-half as this man showed why he has so much to offer this team. Not only was he great in open play, he was nerveless from the tee, landing the mammoth kick that won Saints the match... 9.5

ALEX MITCHELLWhat more can be said about this guy? Just exceptional week in, week out, showing that he is surely the form scrum-half in England right now... 9.5

MANNY IYOGUNSo young but so influential for this team already, the prop powers forward in relentless fashion, adding great physicality... 9

MIKE HAYWOODIs looking like he is back to his best, taking the chance he was given from the start and racking up a huge amount of work here... 9

CONOR CAREYThe prop saw his night end very early as he was sadly stretchered off in his first Premiership start for Saints

ALEX COLESDidn't have as long as he usually would to make an impact as he had to come off just before the break, but prior to that he had more than played his part... 7.5

API RATUNIYARAWASeemed to be everywhere during the first half, stealing possession, getting offloads away and carrying hard at every opportunity... 9.5

COURTNEY LAWESSurely the GOAT (greatest (Saints lock/six) of all time). He had his thumb returned to his hand just a couple of weeks earlier and still put in a performance that was nothing short of heroic for 80 minutes. Nothing should surprise us these days, but somehow this did... 9.5

LEWIS LUDLAMThe skipper leads from the front, week in week out, and he started this magical night with an assist and a try before refusing to relent in attack and defence... 9.5

JUARNO AUGUSTUSMust have been tough for the No.8 to take as he battled through to take to the field but could only last six minutes despite doing everything he could to try to play on

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)AARON HINKLEY (for Augustus 6)This has to go down as one of the best debuts in Saints history. The trialist wouldn't have expect to play 75 minutes, but here he was, delivering a display that defied belief... 9.5

ALEX WALLER (for Hill 24)Has a habit of popping up with key tries (see Premiership final of 2014) and he did it again here in a big display... 8.5

ALEX MOON (for Coles 39)Thrust into the action just before the break and grew into the game during the second half, showing real desire and determination... 8

PIERS FRANCIS (for Dingwall 53)Helped Saints to turn the game around once again as he showed composure and commitment in another comeback success... 7.5