Quins sweep Saints aside
January 31, 2009
Harlequins' Jim Evans touches down for a try during the clash at the Twickenham Stoop
© Getty Images
Harlequins transferred their impressive Heineken Cup form into the Guinness Premiership as they outplayed Northampton at The Stoop.
They avenged a 23-13 defeat at Franklin's Gardens in December to leave the Saints, unbeaten at home, still looking for their first Premiership away victory of the season. South African hooker Gary Botha marked his return to the starting line-up after injury with a third-minute try for Quins.
A second-half penalty try, a touchdown by replacement lock Jim Evans and 12 points from the boot of former All Blacks fly-half Nick Evans completed the Quins scoring - Stephen Myler replying with two penalties for Saints.
Harlequins were without winger Ugo Monye, scrum-half Danny Care and No.8 Nick Easter on England duty. But Northampton appeared to miss Ben Foden, their line-breaking fullback or scrum-half, England second-choice hooker Dylan Hartley and injured Scottish prop Euan Murray more. Lively former England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall, back for Quins in place of Care, was prominent as they launched a multi-phase attack which ended with Evans sending Botha over in the corner.
Evans landed the conversion from near the touchline and increased the home lead to 10-0 with an 18th-minute penalty, after French referee Christophe Berdos penalised the Northampton scrum. Northampton were fortunate not to concede a second try when Scotland winger Sean Lamont ran into trouble and was dispossessed by as he strolled back after neglecting to touch down behind his own line, fielding a kick from Evans.
Quins moved the ball quickly from right to left but squandered their advantage when they were penalised at a ruck. Saints, showing little in attack, missed their only first-half scoring chance when Myler was narrowly wide with a 45-metre penalty - before Evans struck with the final kick before the interval to stretch the lead to 13-0.
Former England winger David Strettle, returning from surgery on the broken metatarsal which had kept him on the sidelines since October, looked eager to make up for lost time as he went looking for the ball and caused Northampton problems with his elusive running. There was a momentary scare for Strettle, who looked uncomfortable as he limped away from a tackle pointing to his right foot - but he appeared to run off the problem.
Botha was controversially denied a second try when the French official upset the home fans by ruling that the player had cannoned off him on his way to the line - and awarded Quins a scrum instead. But there was no respite for Northampton - who conceded a 51st-minute penalty try, converted by Evans, as the Harlequins scrum drove them back over their own line.
Northampton finally opened their account after 54 minutes when Myler landed his third penalty attempt, and he was on target again four minutes later to reduce the deficit to 14 points. But Quins put the issue beyond doubt when Jim Evans, capitalising on a break by his namesake, romped in for their third try in the 67th minute - with the fly-half adding his third conversion.
Following the game, Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder revealed that Scotland prop Euan Murray is doubtful for his country's opening Six Nations clash against Wales at Murrayfield next Sunday due to a rib injury.
"Normally ribs take a few weeks to recover. I don't know yet. He's improving but we don't know the state," said Mallinder.
Northampton, unbeaten at home, are still without an away win in the Premiership and Mallinder described their performance as "very disappointing, a slack display". "The bench came on and made a bit of an impact - Brett Sharman, Courtney Lawes and Neil Best - but mentally we weren't right.
"We were beaten in just about every area. Quins did well slowing down our ball so we failed to get on the front foot and then we made an awful lot of mistakes in attack and defence. It's becoming a big disappointment not managing to win any games away and on that display you won't. We didn't play well today, it's as simple as that."
Harlequins director of rugby was pleased with the way his side coped without their England contingent and also paid tribute to his side after coming off second best when at Franklin's Gardens earlier this season. "It was a bit of a turnaround from up there where we didn't perform. We got the rough end in terms of scrummaging there so we knew what to target and I thought we did it well."
Harlequins: Brown, Strettle, Barry, Turner-Hall, T. Williams, N. Evans, Gomarsall, Jones, Botha, Ross, Kohn, Robson, Robshaw, Skinner, Guest.
Replacements: Stegmann for Turner-Hall (72), Malone for T. Williams (74), Poluleuligaga for Gomarsall (65), J. Evans for Robshaw (58). Not Used: Croall, Lambert, Mcmillan.
Northampton: Reihana, Diggin, Clarke, Downey, Lamont, Myler, Dickson, Tonga'uiha, Shields, Stewart, Fernandez Lobbe, Kruger, Easter, S. Gray, Hopley.
Replacements: Mayor for Downey (68), Everitt for Myler (72), Dickens for Dickson (72), Sharman for Shields (71), Smith for Stewart (65), Lawes for Fernandez Lobbe (61), Best for Easter (49).
Ref: C Bardos (France).
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