Danny Care breaks yellow card record as Northampton edge Harlequins
James Grayson held his nerve to fire over a superb 50-metre penalty to beat Harlequins 32-31 in a thrilling contest and keep Northampton firmly in the hunt for a play-off spot.
Saints had to survive one of Quins’ trademark second-half rallies as the Londoners were comfortably second best when they trailed by nine points at the interval.
The visitors looked to have done enough when they led with only three minutes remaining, but Grayson’s kick proved decisive, with Quins scrum-half Danny Care picking up a late yellow card for dissent.
It was Care’s sixth yellow card of the season, which is a record for the Gallagher Premiership.
It took the hosts just four minutes to take the lead with an excellent try. Skilful handling tested the visitors’ defence to create an opening for Freeman to stride over.
Grayson converted from near the touchline, but the hosts were then dealt two blows in quick succession. First they lost powerful number eight Juarno Augustus with a leg injury, before Quins drew level when Care, Smith and Jones all made valuable contributions to send Esterhuizen in under the posts.
A brilliant 40m run from Alex Mitchell looked likely to bring the scrum-half a score, but an excellent cover tackle from opposite number Care saved the day before the home side suffered another injury when prop Conor Carey was stretchered off.
Saints overcame that setback to score their second try, as Ludlam finished off another free-flowing move, but their opponents remained in contention with a simple penalty from Smith.
Saints blew a golden opportunity to score a third when a well-judged cross-field kick from Grayson left Matt Proctor with endless time to collect, but inexplicably the ball bounced sideways to allow a Quins defender to touch down.
Saints’ injury woes continued when replacement prop Paul Hill departed to fail an HIA, but from an uncontested scrum the home side secured possession for Mitchell’s pass to send Furbank over.
The frenetic first half continued with a fifth try. A cross-field kick from Smith was collected by Joe Marchant, who performed heroics to avoid going into touch before releasing a pass to try-scorer Jones.
There was still time in the half for Saints to score their bonus-point try. They built up a head of steam for Waller to force his way over before Alex Coles became their latest casualty by hobbling off.
Despite suffering injuries to four forwards, Northampton deservedly led 26-17 at the interval, but five minutes after the restart that advantage was reduced when Dombrandt crashed through a couple of tackles for Quins’ third.
After 52 minutes, the visitors took the lead for the first time when some superbly-timed passing gave Murley the overlap for the bonus-point try.
Grayson kicked a penalty before Quins’ replacement prop Santiago Garcia Botta was sin-binned for a head high challenge on Furbank, who immediately departed for an HIA.
Grayson declined another kickable penalty, which looked to have proved costly, but he succeeded with a far more difficult chance to keep his side in pole position for a play-off spot.
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