Northampton Saints 22 Harlequins 20: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Alex Waller scored for Saints (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Alex Waller scored for Saints (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

In the end, it turned out to be the same old story for Saints.

They were close, but just not close enough as they failed to guarantee Champions Cup qualification for next season.

They do still have a chance, via two possible play-off matches later this month, but there is no papering over the cracks of the campaign as a whole.

Whether Saints make it or not, there can be no sugar-coating it. This season has been one of real underachievement.

Jim Mallinder's men did not make it out of their Champions Cup or Anglo-Welsh Cup pools.

And, when push has come to shove in the biggest Aviva Premiership matches, they have not been able to finish the job.

Luther Burrell was in good form

Luther Burrell was in good form

They won just two of their 12 matches against the league's top six, despite some stirring displays.

In the final moments of big matches, they just couldn't hammer the final nail in the coffin of the opposition.

Against Harlequins on Saturday, Saints were left wondering what might have been once more.

They did well to battle back from 10 points down - though it could be said they should never have found themselves in that position - to go 22-20 up.

Api Ratuniyarawa scored Saints' third try but they couldn't get the one they needed for the bonus point

Api Ratuniyarawa scored Saints' third try but they couldn't get the one they needed for the bonus point

With 10 minutes of the match remaining, it was there for Saints to score one more try that would have secured sixth place in the Premiership and that prized Champions Cup spot.

But they knocked on at the breakdown, lost possession in a couple of other attacking situations and let Quins, who, to their credit, defended well late on, off the hook.

Saints did win, but Quins were the ones celebrating at the final whistle.

It was yet another frustrating conclusion for the Franklin's Gardens faithful, who have seen their team suffer late heartache on so many occasions this season.

Teimana Harrison showed his disappointment at the final whistle

Teimana Harrison showed his disappointment at the final whistle

Saints are so close to something good, but the fact they finished below Quins in the table courtesy of winning fewer games told the tale.

Now they will have to sit back, wait and see whether Gloucester win the Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais on Friday night.

If the Cherry and Whites fail to lift the trophy, Saints will have a home play-off against Connacht on the following weekend.

Win that, and they would meet either Stade Francais or Cardiff Blues in a 'play-off final' at Franklin's Gardens.

Win that, and they would have Champions Cup rugby next season.

But if Gloucester are victorious this week, that will be it. Saints will be in the Challenge Cup next season.

And what a disappointment that would be, with the likes of Courtney Lawes, Louis Picamoles and George North playing in Europe's second tier tournament.

Those men will be joined by plenty of new players next season, with the likes of Cobus Reinach and Rob Horne coming in to freshen things up.

And if they can add to Saints' attacking game, Mallinder's men could get back to where they feel they should be.

Because, make no mistake, the improvement going forward has certainly been there during recent weeks and months.

The likes of Nic Groom and Ahsee Tuala have enhanced their reputations with some lively showings, while Harry Mallinder will only get better the more he plays.

There were good signs from Luther Burrell, who was much improved on Saturday, taking the game to Quins.

And the likes of Courtney Lawes and Louis Picamoles have been special all season.

If Saints can iron out their defensive issues, they will be far better next time round.

But for now, they are left to reflect on what they could have achieved rather than what they have.

And now it's up to Stade Francais to help Saints salvage a small crumb of comfort from a season that has definitely not been the best thing since sliced bread.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Took a knock early on, but battled back and once again looked a threat going forward, though Quins contained him well... 6

GEORGE NORTH

Grabbed himself a try with good awareness as he picked up the ball after lovely play by Mallinder, and the Wales wing was dangerous throughout... 7

NAFI TUITAVAKE

Kept Harlequins on their toes with a sharp showing, but may have been able to hold onto the ball rather than offloading on a couple of occasions... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

A big display from the centre, who was desperate to get involved and carried the ball well numerous times... 8

BEN FODEN

Made some good inroads for Saints and they were not the same attacking force when he was had to exit the action... 7

HARRY MALLINDER

Missed one conversion he would expect to make and tried to land one hugely ambitious drop goal, but largely played well and his assist for North was a thing of beauty... 7

NIC GROOM

The scrum-half just gets better and better and he was once again important to Saints' ability to find gaps in the Quins rearguard with some rapid rugby... 8

ALEX WALLER

Etched his name on the scoresheet and although Quins had the better of Saints in the scrum, this man was important around the park... 7

DYLAN HARTLEY

Battled hard for the cause, desperately trying to help Saints get the upper hand with some important hits... 7

KIERAN BROOKES

Not an easy day for the prop as Joe Marler employed some clever scrum tactics to win his side important penalties... 5

COURTNEY LAWES - CHRON STAR MAN

Another gargantuan showing from the lock, who carried well on numerous occasions, impressed in the lineout and also made some massive tackles... 8

DAVID RIBBANS

What a signing this youngster has been for Saints as he impresses every time he takes to the field... 8

JAMIE GIBSON

As ever, he got through plenty of graft as he tried to help Saints grab the momentum they needed... 7

TOM WOOD

Was determined to skipper the side despite a niggling shoulder injury, but he was forced off on 14 minutes

LOUIS PICAMOLES

Was a dominant force once again, with his typically superb first-half showing keeping Saints in the game... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

TEIMANA HARRISON (for Wood 14)

Plenty of energy and enthusiasm from the flanker, who carried with trademark aggression throughout... 7

GARETH DENMAN (for Brookes 58)

Was making what was potentially his final appearance for Saints and did little wrong during his cameo... 6