LONDON (AFP) – Champions Northampton maintained their lead at the top of the English Premiership with an impressive 30-25 victory over Harlequins in front of 82,000 fans at Twickenham on Saturday.
Saints had just 25 per cent of the ball yet proved ruthless in their execution as Quins came up just short in a thrilling advert for the English game.
But Northampton are now just one point ahead of Bath after the West Country outfit earned a bonus point in a 31-14 win at home to Exeter Chiefs.
Samu Manoa, George North and Kahn Fotuali’i scored tries for Saints while Quins matched them with scores from George Lowe, Jack Clifford and Sam Twomey.
Fly-half Tim Swiel however missed a conversion and a couple of penalties, while Northampton’s Stephen Myler was faultless with the boot.
Quins were out of the blocks in breakneck fashion as centre Lowe started and finished off a sweeping move on six minutes.
Swiel missed the conversion, but made amends by knocking over a penalty a few moments later after more good work from Lowe.
Yet from the restart the hosts gave away a penalty for accidental offside and Myler stemmed the tide with a three-pointer of his own.
That spurred the champions into life and Toulon-bound American back row Manoa bulldozed over after a catch-and-drive line-out move from five yards out.
Myler’s penalty gave Saints the lead and he stretched that out before half-time with another despite prop Salesi Ma’afu sitting in the sin bin for a high tackle on Lowe.
It had been a smash-and-grab half from Saints as Quins led in every aspect of the statistics except the one that counted the most: the scoreline.
At the start of the second period Manoa charged down a Swiel kick on halfway before beating Matt Hopper to the rebound and offloading one-handed to Wales wing North to steam in unopposed.
Just as they had done the week before when beating Leicester despite playing 63 minutes a man-down, Northampton had proved peerless with 14 men, outscoring Quins 10-0.
Swiel and Myler swapped penalties before the Quins man made a scything break that saw the fly-half come up barely an inch short.
Yet Quins did not despair and after battering away at the Saints line, the defence narrowed and the hosts went wide right where Clifford cut inside to score.