Northampton Saints 17 Harlequins 13 - Tom Vickers’ view and player ratings
Perhaps spoiler alerts should now be issued for Saints home games.
Because there is a trend emerging at Franklin’s Gardens. where teams come to suffocate rather than outshine.
Harlequins were the latest in a line of opponents who adopted tactics that appear indelible on the board in the away dressing room.
They slowed things down, pushing the referee Tim Wigglesworth’s leniency to the limit, and overall it did not make for the finest Friday night spectacle.
This, just a couple of weeks after London Irish had done similar and almost snatched a victory from the jaws of a 15-9 defeat.
While Irish were fairly limited, you felt Quins had the firepower to make their mark on Saints.
And that was shown by a late rambunctious run from wide man Marland Yarde, who deservedly capped a good personal performance with a try.
Yarde’s display was a beacon of light on a night when there was plenty of thunder in the visiting side, but little lightning.
They posed a threat, but their style was met with substance from Saints, who were ruthless in their execution.
And they are having to be, with opposition sides clinging onto the ball and taking their time when it goes out of play.
That is not to say what Quins did was wrong.
They, like Irish, weren’t too far from emulating Exeter by winning in Northampton this season.
It is simply a matter of sides giving themselves the best opportunity to win.
But it means the paying public are forced to be understanding, because it is not all pyrotechnics and pretty plays.
For a long time, Saints had the reputation as the Arsenal of rugby union.
It was based on the fact they played a silky game, but came up short when the major trophies were handed out.
That tag was shed with Premiership success last season, but there are still similarities between the two clubs.
Lesser sides than Arsenal will not go to north London and play the Gunners at their own game.
They try to stifle their creativity, frustrate them and then pounce when they eventually let their guard down.
That is what teams are doing to Saints now.
And they are just having to deal with it.
Thankfully for everyone of green, black and gold persuasion, they are able to.
They are not letting angst get the better of them, simply retaining the belief that the win will come and adding vital points to their Premiership tally.
Friday’s triumph took them a massive 13 points clear of second-placed Bath and, more importantly, 16 ahead of Saracens in third.
Saints have all-but booked a home semi-final because they are yet to host winless London Welsh.
There are now just six games of the regular-season to go and Saracens or Exeter, who are level with the Londoners, would need to make up - at the very least - 20 points.
And that is hugely unlikely, because, no matter what others do to try to stop them, Jim Mallinder’s men have become hugely adept at getting the job done.
How they rated...
Did drop a pass he’d expect to take and miss a tackle he’d usually make, but overall it was a good night for the Kiwi, who scored a fine try and used his booming boot to good effect... 7
Another livewire display from the Samoan wing. He’s a constant threat to opposition sides and uses any space he gets well... 7
Stood tall in the midfield and made a couple of bursts to gain Saints some much-needed territory... 7
Was lucky not to be hurt by a high tackle from Harry Sloan and bounced back well in another sharp display... 7
Wasn’t able to get involved as much as in his superb display at Bath on the previous weekend and will be disappointed to have let Yarde evade him late on... 6
The fly-half is soaking up a few big hits at the moment as teams try to get to him, but he was steady enough here. Will be disappointed to have missed a couple of kicks... 6
Was forced to do more defending than attacking as Quins enjoyed plenty of possession and territory before Saints’ replacements helped turn the tide... 6
Didn’t get as long as he’d have liked on the field, but did help secure a lead before departing... 6
Was forced off the field for a spell after taking a blow to the head and it was a tough night in the set piece as Quins did well to disrupt his lineouts... 6
Has come in to fill the void left by Salesi Ma’afu during the past two weeks and can be happy with his efforts... 7
Led the team out on his 150th Saints appearance and proceeded to put in a typically strong display... 7
Marshalled the efforts of the pack on a decent night for the home forwards, who eventually had too much for Quins... 6
A typically powerful performance from the versatile forward, who scored his 10th try of the season and made some more big hits... 7
Another energetic display as he did his best to play Quins at their own game by disrupting their chances of getting quick ball... 7
Carried well as usual but Quins were resilient and his main contributions came in defence... 6
Replacements(who played more than 20 minutes)
ALEX CORBISIERO (for Waller 45)
Made his mark after coming into the action as he helped turn up the heat on the Harlequins pack... 7
KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 45) - CHRON STAR MAN
Such a vital player for Saints as he adds something extra special to the mix, lifting the tempo with his slick passing and making turnovers... 7
TOM WOOD (for Dickinson 53)
A great way to celebrate his 100th Saints appearance as he put in an important try-scoring cameo and helped to earn a victory... 7