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Harlequins boss Tabai Matson acclaimed Will Edwards for proving an accomplished deputy for Marcus Smith in a 41-27 Gallagher Premiership victory over Northampton at Twickenham.
Smith was ruled out of ‘Big Game 13′ after it was revealed on Boxing Day that he tested for Covid, but the England fly-half will be available for Sunday’s trip to Gloucester.
In his absence, Edwards made his second Premiership start of the season and the 26-year-old shone in front of a 72,785 crowd by setting up two of the champions’ six tries.
“Will was exceptional,” Matson said. “We didn’t have fly-half cover and people don’t realise how hard it is to step into the breach like that. He kicked his goals and got us around the park. He adjusted well.
“Marcus is good. He’s actually available (on Tuesday) and is back in the mix. These are strange times.
“We’re really fortunate to have an amazing medical team who mitigate as much of these strange times as possible.
“For the next couple of weeks, just getting a 23 to the start line is going to pay dividends in April.
“At this time of year if you can stop somebody getting a bonus point it all matters later on.”
Andre Esterhuizen was named man of the match for his bulldozing runs from inside centre, but England number eight Alex Dombrandt completed a hat-trick of tries to improve his chance of starting the Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 5.
“Every time Alex delivers like that it catches your eye,” Matson said. “He’s a loose forward and someone who finds his way to the try line, so that’s always eye-catching.
“But when you look deeper into the performance around the physicality, getting on to the ball and working hard to get into tackles, that complements an international player. Three tries – greedy guy!”
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It was only in the final eight minutes that Quins pulled clear and Northampton were on course to secure a bonus point until Dombrandt completed his hat-trick with seconds to spare.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t get four or five points from that,” Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd said. “We made a couple of awful decisions at the end and paid the price. It’s disappointing.
“We weren’t accurate enough, gave away too many penalties and got on the wrong side of the referee and when you do that you pay the price. We gave them too many platforms to set themselves up to win the game.”