Harlequins 20 Northampton Saints 9: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
This time there was no last-gasp Harlequins horror show to save Saints.
There was no stirring fightback with the final play of the game.
There were no slick moves that cut the opposition to ribbons.
In fact, especially during the second half, there wasn’t much of anything from Saints.
Harlequins were hardly incredible themselves, however they managed to win the physical battle and, ultimately, the war.
Jim Mallinder felt Saints lacked direction and admitted his immense frustration with their failure to execute any sort of attacking game.
The fact they didn’t score a single try, and didn’t really look likely to, told the tale.
This was reminiscent of the opening-day defeat at Bath.
Just as on that occasion, there was a bright spell during the first half.
A time when Saints looked to be getting to grips with the opposition and appeared to be grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck.
But just as against Bath, they faded badly, like a racehorse that had run out of legs halfway around the track.
And just as against Bath, they gave away far too many penalties, costing them any chance of victory.
At least against Bath there was a late rally, a couple of tries from Nic Groom.
On this occasion, there wasn’t even that.
Instead, Harlequins continued pressing until the end in a game that resembled the traffic jam on the way to the game in its irritating and seemingly never-ending nature.
What is most disappointing for Saints is that this performance came on the back of their best of the season.
The victory against Exeter displayed their fighting spirit and, especially during Rory Hutchinson’s stunning team try, an ability to deliver something special.
But there wasn’t much of that on show at The Stoop.
After taking a step forward against Exeter, Saints took two back here.
They looked to be building something, with performances against Saracens and Wasps unlucky not to bring more than the single point earned.
And then the Exeter win appeared the be the realisation of the talk about how it was a matter of time before the team delivered both a good display and a victory.
Saints looked to be gathering speed, and a win in Twickenham would send them into next week’s Champions Cup opener against Montpellier with real momentum.
But Mallinder’s men were to fall flat and must now rebuild all over again.
Whether that is with exactly the same personnel, it remains to be seen.
Players such as James Wilson and Howard Packman will be knocking on the director of rugby’s door after their recent impressive display for the Wanderers.
And those players certainly have aspects to their game that would add something new.
However, Mallinder will be wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, especially in the Champions Cup.
He is not accustomed to knee-jerk reactions, trying to remain calm, win or lose.
And it will be interesting to see what he does in terms of selection for the French double-header - Saints go to Castres after the match against Montpellier - that awaits.
One thing is for sure, Saints will need to step up several levels if they even want to compete with those teams.
They will need to go back to the drawing board and come up with ways to trouble the teams from across the Channel.
Because at The Stoop on Saturday, they didn’t really trouble Quins at all.
How they rated...
The Samoan full-back was one of Saints’ better performers as he made one good break early on and did some good defensive work in the second half... 6
Enjoyed a good day at The Stoop back in February but wasn’t really able to get in the game on this occasion... 5
Shot out of the line for the Quins try and although he did put in a couple of good hits, he couldn’t influence the game... 5
Came back into the team after injury and one good grubber and powerful carry aside, didn’t look himself, especially defensively... 5
Has enjoyed a superb start to the season, but he barely saw the ball in this match as Saints struggled to get any front-foot ball... 5
Landed three kicks, but missed a couple of others and wasn’t able to get any sort of stranglehold on proceedings... 5
Couldn’t get the pace of the game he wanted at the breakdown and there wasn’t enough movement around him... 5
Found himself on the wrong side of the referee as Harlequins took advantage of Saints’ lack of discipline... 5
Battled hard, putting himself about in the bid to push Harlequins back, but the tide didn’t turn... 6
Took a knock in the first half, but battled on before eventually being replaced early in the second half... 5
Was unfortunate to be penalised on one occasion and the lock did try to impose himself on Quins... 6
Has started the season well and he didn’t let the team down here, putting in a decent shift before being replaced... 6
The skipper never shirks a challenge and he did do well at the breakdown as well as charging around trying to help turn things around... 6
Was forced off with a head knock after putting his body in the firing line at the breakdown as he so often does, but didn’t find favour with the referee... 5
Took the fight to Quins during the first half with some trademark big carries and could hold his head high... 6
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
LEE DICKSON (for Groom 50)
Saints hoped he would be able to up the tempo, but the team were on the back foot and his passing wasn’t as sharp as he’d have liked... 5
PAUL HILL (for Brookes 56)
Came on at a time when Saints were starting to really find it difficult and this was not an easy cameo... 5
CHRON STAR MAN - Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)