Danny Care produced a masterclass from scrum-half as Harlequins bounced back from their opening-day mauling at the hands of Exeter with an impressive 49-29 victory at Northampton. At 33 years old, Care may struggle to add to his 84 England caps, but he showed at Franklin’s Gardens he can still run the show, scoring the first of their six tries and having a hand in three others.
While this was an excellent riposte from Paul Gustard’s side, it continued a disappointing start for Saints, who have now lost their last eight home games in the Gallagher Premiership. Harlequins were forced into a late change, with their captain Stephan Lewies being forced out by injury, meaning a first Premiership start for Hugh Tizard, with Alex Dombrandt taking on the armband.
Harlequins still took just seven minutes to open the scoring, as Luke Northmore went through some porous defence and sent Care clear to score by the posts, giving Marcus Smith an easy conversion. Stung into action, Northampton hit back when James Grayson sent Api Ratuniyarawa through a gap down the middle and the Fijian found the supporting Lewis Ludlam, who marked his Saints return with a try.
Quins then seized control, as Smith knocked over a penalty before Nathan Earle went over for a terrific try down the left after some slick interplay with Glen Young and Care. Grayson and Smith then swiftly exchanged penalties before the latter extended the visitors’ lead to 23-10 with a fifth successful kick from five, following a high tackle by Alex Mitchell on Care.
Northampton badly needed a lifeline and they got one off the final play of the first half, as Nick Isiekwe plunged over to reward a long spell of pressure and Grayson’s conversion reduced the gap to six points at the break. Quins quickly took the game away from them in the second half, however, as Care’s pass gave Mike Brown an easy finish before a lovely kick from Smith bounced perfectly for Dombrandt to score their bonus-point score.
Outstanding display on the road from @Harlequins ?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) November 28, 2020
Rory Hutchinson then pulled back a converted try for Northampton on the hour mark, following some good hands from Harry Mallinder. The hosts were then gifted a route back into the game with 14 minutes left when an overthrown lineout five metres from the Harlequins line was pounced on by Ludlam, who scored his second of the game.
But Quins snuffed out the comeback following a loose pass from Hutchinson when yet more superb handling from first James Chisholm then Tom Lawday down the left led to Care’s replacement Scott Steele plunging over. There was still time for Smith to claim the try his performance deserved, as he got on the end of Andre Esterhuizen’s off-load off the final play of the match.
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"20-yo Andre Esterhuizen sat in Jake White’s office as the world champion coach peered over his spectacles & delivered an ultimatum"@Andre_301207 on @Harlequins, leaving SA, being a 115kg centre & of course…
THAT Owen Farrell tackle
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 28, 2020
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