Premiership: James Grayson the hero as Northampton Saints edge out Harlequins at Franklin’s Gardens

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

James Grayson was Northampton Saints’ hero when he slotted a long range penalty which helped his team to a thrilling 32-31 triumph over Harlequins at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

The result keeps Northampton in the mix for a play-off berth and they were deserved winners as they held the upper-hand for long periods and held a 26-17 lead at the interval.

In the end, both sides scored four tries apiece with Tommy Freeman, Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank and Alex Waller scoring for the home side while Grayson finished with a 12-point haul courtesy of three conversions and two penalties.

For Quins, Andre Esterhuizen, Huw Jones, Alex Dombrandt and Callum Murley crossed the whitewash with Marcus Smith adding four conversions and a penalty.

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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 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 40-metre 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.

Sale Sharks stay in play-off hunt with win over Newcastle Falcons

In the other Premiership match, Sale Sharks kept their top-four hopes just about alive with a 35-27 bonus-point win over Newcastle Falcons.

The Champions Cup quarter-finalists deservedly ended their run of three straight home defeats in all competitions, scoring five tries along the way, but the Falcons were right in contention until the final quarter-of-an-hour.

The visitors led at the interval, but Alex Sanderson’s men rallied impressively in the second period on their way to a 10th Premiership win of the season.

The match got off to something of a cagey start at a sun-drenched AJ Bell Stadium with numerous big kicks exchanged before the Falcons started to exert the first real pressure.

After a couple of line-out attempts, the visitors helped George McGuigan crash over in the corner after nine minutes.

The hosts were guilty of some slack handling in those early exchanges, though the Falcons failed to capitalise.

The Sharks got themselves back on terms after 18 minutes.

Making the most of a five-metre line-out, a rolling maul helped push the ball out to Akker van der Merwe, and he stormed over the line, while Rob du Preez was precise in adding the extras from wide out.

With the momentum swinging from end to end, it was the visitors who struck next when Joel Hodgson latched on to a swift pass from Will Welch before darting over unopposed.

Hodgson then aimed a terrific conversion through the posts from the touchline to make it 12-7 to the Falcons.

Such was the quick flow of the game, Sale replied within minutes as Van der Merwe charged past a tackle before diving over out wide, with Du Preez’s superb kick making it 14-12 the hosts.

On the stroke of half-time, Hodgson popped over an easy penalty attempt to turn the tables again and give the Falcons a 15-14 lead at the break.

But the Sharks were straight onto the front foot early in the second period, and barely three minutes had passed when Ben Curry crashed over for a reviewed try as he celebrated his return to action in fine style.

Du Preez’s routine kick made it 21-15, but back came the gutsy Falcons, with Mateo Carreras dodging Faf de Klerk before diving over to drag it back to 21-20.

Sale’s bonus-point score came with 25 minutes left.

Simon Hammersley coasted over after meeting fellow replacement Gus Warr’s sharp pass inside, with Du Preez’s kick putting the Sharks 28-20 ahead.

The hosts belatedly grabbed themselves some breathing space as the final 10 minutes approached courtesy of replacement Ewan Ashman’s converted try.

Matias Orlando claimed a bonus point for the Falcons with a try in the dying seconds, but some solid defensive work from the Sharks ahead of that had ensured that by then the victory was not in doubt.

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The article Premiership: James Grayson the hero as Northampton Saints edge out Harlequins at Franklin’s Gardens appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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