Premiership: Harlequins 30-17 Northampton Saints

Chris Ashton scores a try for Harlequins
Harlequins wing Chris Ashton scored the 88th try of his Premiership career against his former club
Harlequins (18) 30
Tries: Earle, Baldwin, Robshaw, Ashton Cons: Smith 2 Pens: Smith 2
Northampton (14) 17
Tries: Hutchinson, Olowofela Cons: Grayson 2 Pen: Grayson

Harlequins revived their Premiership play-off challenge with a bonus-point win over top-four hopefuls Northampton.

Nathan Earle and Scott Baldwin crossed to help Quins to a 18-14 half-time lead, with Rory Hutchinson and Ryan Olowofela scoring for the visitors.

Tries from Chris Robshaw and Chris Ashton soon after the restart took the game away from Saints.

The victory puts Quins seven points behind fourth-placed Bath, who host Wasps on Monday (15:00 BST).

Harlequins, who remain seventh but move three points behind sixth-placed Northampton, went into the match 12 points off the play-off places, having suffered back-to-back defeats by Saracens and Worcester.

An entertaining first half saw Saints go ahead inside five minutes when Matt Proctor broke through on halfway and set Hutchinson free.

A Marcus Smith penalty got Quins into the game and Earle crossed for their first try following a quick penalty taken by Mike Brown and a fine offload by Alex Dombrandt.

Northampton regained the lead through former England sevens man Olowofela, but the hosts went back ahead when Baldwin powered over following a five-metre line-out and Smith added another penalty to earn an 18-14 lead.

Quins seize control after break

With England head coach Eddie Jones watching on from the stands, Quins were more purposeful after the restart and two tries in the space of three minutes swung the match firmly in their favour.

A smart break into the Saints 22 from Smith laid the platform for former England captain Robshaw to touch down in the left-hand corner seven minutes into the second half.

The bonus-point score from winger Ashton, against his former club, was the pick of the tries as Harlequins swiftly turned defence into attack.

Full-back Brown dummied a clearing kick inside his own 22 and then burst through midfield and up to halfway before offloading to Dombrandt, allowing the number eight to set Ashton free to race home and finish with his trademark ‘splash’ celebration.

The try, Ashton’s second for the club since his move from Sale, was his 88th in the Premiership, putting him four behind all-time top scorer Tom Varndell.

James Grayson kicked a penalty to bring Northampton back within two converted tries, but the visitors could not find a score which could have secured a losing bonus point despite exerting some late pressure.

Paul Gustard’s men host Bath next Saturday in what will be another must-win match as the south-west London club look to close the gap to the top four.

About 3,500 supporters are set to be in attendance at The Stoop as the club participates in the government’s latest pilot scheme for fans at sporting events.

Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard:

“The spine of the team played well, and when the spine plays well you get some direction in the attack and that gives us field position and a threat with the ball in hand and then the result.

“Things change fast in the Premiership. The last two weeks we’ve been juggling squads and trying to prepare a team and get some cohesion.

“It didn’t quite work out as we wanted against Worcester – the first 40 minutes were the poorest performance I’ve seen as a coach.

“But we got it right in this game and we put on a dominant performance.”

Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd:

“I thought we probably had the better of the first half. Then it was error on top of error.

“The endeavour is there but the performance is not anywhere good enough.

“We were way too loose in our execution. We weren’t accurate enough, smart enough and efficient enough over long periods.

“We have got a chase now where we’d have to win our last five games to make the top four, and three of those are against the top three sides.”

Harlequins: Brown; Ashton, Marchant, Lasike, Earle; Smith, Care; Marler, Baldwin, Kerrod, Lewies, Symons, Robshaw (capt), Evans, Dombrandt.

Replacements: Gray, Garcia Botta, Van Dyk, Lamb, Chisholm, Steele, Lang, Morris.

Northampton: Furbank; Olowofela, Proctor, Hutchinson, Collins; Grayson, Mitchell; Hobbs-Awoyemi, Haywood, Painter, Moon, Isiekwe, Gibson, Ludlam (capt), Adendorff.

Replacements: Marshall, Auterac, Hill, Ribbans, Harrison, Taylor, Dingwall, Naiyaravoro.

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys.