Alex Dombrandt was the standout player for Harlequins
Harlequins 41 Northampton Saints 27
These Harlequins sure know how to put on a show at Twickenham. Almost six months to the day that they were crowned champions in the most thrilling of Premiership finals, Quins popped back over the Chertsey Road to deliver yet another classic.
Neither the omicron variant nor the teeming rain could put a dampener on the 72,785 crowd’s enjoyment of a nine-try barnstormer. Northampton, for whom scrum-half Alex Mitchell was superb, played a full part in the contest. They were ahead 21-7 in the first quarter and held the lead for a large chunk of the game. For Chris Boyd’s side to leave without a bonus point feels like an injustice. Ultimately they were undone by a 17-7 penalty count and Harlequins’ relentless tempo.
Half-backs Danny Care and the unheralded Will Edwards feasted off the front-foot ball provided by hulking Andre Esterhuizen in the centres and No 8 Alex Dombrandt who scored a hat-trick of tries. If he maintains this type of form then his case to be England’s starting No 8 in the Six Nations will be unassailable.
“Every time he delivers like that it catches your eye,” Tabai Matson, the Harlequins head coach, said. “He’s a loose forward and someone who finds his way to the try line, it’s always eye-catching. When you look deeper into the performance around the physicality, getting on to the ball and working hard to get into tackles, that compliments an international player. Three tries – greedy guy! It was the Big Game so it was really important for us to deliver a big performance as well.”
It was a good day all round for Quins whose women’s side ran out 29-5 winners against Wasps, even if they appeared to be playing in jerseys last seen on 1920s footballers. After bringing in a superstar DJ as a warm-up act, it started a bit Pete Tong for Quins as Saints No 8 Juarno Augustus spun out of the tackle to score after a dominant maul.
Quins responded immediately. Esterhuizen powered over the gainline, Care sniped and with Saints short on defenders the scrum-half put Dombrandt over. It was Quins 101. But then in a flash Northampton were back on top. Augustus got his second try after a fortunate ricochet caught the Quins defence flat- footed before flanker Lewis Ludlam ran over the top of Louis Lynagh and prop Alex Waller.
In the absence of the Covid victim Marcus Smith, Harlequins needed a stand-in for their headline slot. Enter Edwards. “Will Edwards was exceptional,” Matson said. “People don’t realise how hard it is to step into the breach like that.”
No Marcus Smith? No problem – Will Edwards put in a superb performance
Credit: Getty Images Europe
Snapped up after being made by redundant by England sevens, the 26-year-old did a passable impression of England’s golden boy at Twickenham in creating Harlequins’ next two tries. Who knows, someone at HQ may even twig that there might be some value in this sevens programme.
The first came from the momentum created by a Care tap penalty and Dombrandt’s gain line-busting carry before Edwards’s soft hands put Cadan Murley over. The second was even more sumptuous. This time it was Esterhuizen who provided the go-forward and Edwards stepped and offloaded one-handed for Tyrone Green to give the scoring pass to Murley.
With six tries inside 30 minutes, the crowd had barely had time to draw breath but they did summon the energy to boo Dan Biggar’s decision to kick a penalty. Quins live by a different code and when they kicked to the corner a dominant maul allowed Care to put Dombrandt over for his second. The relentless speed of the game slowed a couple of beats in the second half as Biggar’s second penalty restored Northampton’s lead.
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The heavy rain was not helping matters but Harlequins continued to play in the same Harlem Globetrotters’ spirit. Conditions be damned. They had their reward with what may have been the best try of the lot. Quins looked to be on the back foot but Care went blindside where hulking flanker Tom Lawday produced an offload that a Fijian back would have been proud of to put replacement Luke Northmore away. Wing Lynagh stayed on his shoulder and there would be no catching the son of the Wallabies legend.
Northampton remained within a score, even when Edwards added a penalty and both Care and Rory Hutchinson were sin-binned for a fracas. That was until Dombrandt peeled off the back of a five-metre scrum with the clock turned red.
Harlequins are up to third and emphatically proved they are not a one-season wonder.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, Augustus; 0-7, Biggar con; 5-7 Dombrandt try; 7-7, Edwards con; 7-12, August try; 7-14, Biggar con; 7-19, Waller try; 7-21, Biggar con; 12-21, Murley con; 14-21, Edwards con; 19-21, Murley try; 21-21, Edwards con; 21-24, Biggar pen; 26-24, Dombrandt try; 26-27, Biggar pen; 31-27, Lynagh try; 34-27, Edwards pen; 39-27, Dombrandt try; 41-27, Esterhuizen con.
Harlequins: T.Green; L.Lynagh (H Jones, 69), J.Marchant, A.Esterhuizen, C.Murley (L Northmore, 53); W.Edwards (L.Gjaltema, 76), D.Care; J.Marler (S Garcia Botta, 77), J.Walker (J Musk, 77), W.Collier (S Kerrod, 67), M.Symons, S.Lewies (H Tizard, 62), T.Lawday (V.Taulani, 79), J.Kenningham, A.Dombrandt.
Sin-bin: Care 74-80.
Replacements not used: J.Musk, S.Garcia Botta, S.Kerrod, H.Tizard, V.Taulani, L.Gjaltema, L.Northmore, H.Jones.
Northampton: G.Furbank; O.Sleightholme, M.Proctor (R Hutchinson, 31), F.Dingwall, C.Skosan; D.Biggar, A.Mitchell; A.Waller (N Auterac, 62), S.Matavesi (J Fish, 64), E.Painter (P Hill, 41), D.Ribbans, A.Ratuniyarawa (A Coles, 62), C.Lawes, L.Ludlam (capt), J.Augustus (T Wood, 57).
Replacements not used: J.Fish, N.Auterac, P.Hill. A.Coles, T.Wood, T.James, R.Hutchinson, A.Tuala.
Sin-bin: Hutchinson, 74-80.
Referee: W.Barnes (RFU).