Saturday May 4 2013
Harlequins v. Northampton Saints
@ The Stoop: k.o.14.30
Aviva Premiership : Round 22
Etihad Stand:Block AB:Row G; Seat 0017: £34.50
In theory both teams could have gained home-advantage in next weekend’s semi-finals if results elsewhere had gone their way, but there probably weren’t many people in the 14, 800, near capacity, crowd who didn’t think it was a contest to decide which was the lesser of two evils, a visit to Leicester or Saracens.
Quins had at least finished the regular season strongly, three successive victories following a run of three successive defeats. It turned out to be a real ding-dong encounter, with Harlequins appearing to have the dubious privilege of a trip to Welford Road all wrapped up in the Spring sunshine after tries by hooker Rob Buchanan and centre Tom Casson just after the interval saw them to a 22-5 lead.
However, Northampton showed that they are not to be dismissed lightly, storming back to score two converted tries in seven minutes either side of the hour mark, with their newly installed Lions hooker Dylan Hartley scoring the first from a driving maul, and lock Christian Day getting the second from a passage of play that was positively Harlequins-esque in its ambition and scope.
If you had looked forward to this game two months ago you might have expected to be watching half-a –dozen Lions, but in the end the Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley was he only Lion on view. Chris Robshaw was absent for Quins through injury, to his ankle rather than his pride after his failure to make the squad for Australia. But the Wallabies will not regret the absence of Danny Care, a player who can transfix and frustrate, but who also has a catalytic effect on his side. Care created two of the champions’ three tries, and surely made a compelling case to be on the standby list.
This was the last normal Premiership weekend of the season, and so all fixtures kicked off at 2.30. News came in from other venues that it had been a vintage day in the Premiership, with a feast of tries around the grounds.
Sometimes we are too down on this whole competition. On days such as these, the spectacle, the passion and the honesty of it all creates a mood to span the empty summer months.