Harlequins 50 Northampton Saints 21: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints scored three tries at Twickenham but they counted for nothing on another hugely difficult day (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Saints scored three tries at Twickenham but they counted for nothing on another hugely difficult day (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
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Trips to Twickenham are typically viewed as a pleasure and a privilege.

But for Saints they have been nothing short of a pantomime this season.

Two games, two defeats and a whopping 105 points conceded.

If the opening-day 55-24 shocker against Saracens was bad, this was arguably far worse.

Because while Saracens are double European champions and perennial title contenders, Quins came into Saturday's game on a run of five defeats from six matches.

They, like Saints, could claim to be shorn of confidence.

They, like Saints, were having troubles that left them in the lower reaches of the Aviva Premiership table.

But, unlike Saints, they actually produced a performance at Twickenham.

Once again, after a try was conceded, the men wearing the badge of Northampton were made to suffer.

Score after score came, with Quins racking up a ruthless seven on yet another agonising afternoon.

For those Saints supporters who headed to the capital buoyed by their Christmas break, this was an experience that brought them firmly back down to earth.

Not even myriad alcoholic beverages could mask the hurt here.

It was a shambolic showing that had very few redeeming features.

After a run of 11 defeats in their previous 12 matches, seven of which have seen Saints concede 30 or more points, you could have been forgiven for thinking it couldn't get any worse.

But it did.

This was probably the lowest point of a year that has plumbed the depths of despair.

And the only good thing about the game was that it did eventually end after what felt like 12 months packed into 80 minutes.

Saints will now hope that a new year brings a new start.

They desperately need to wipe the slate clean after a 2017 that has seen them win just 14 of their 35 matches.

Compare that to 2014, which encompassed a Premiership and Challenge Cup double, and it is easy to see just how much they have slipped.

They won 28 of their 36 games in that superb 12 months, but they have not been the same side since.

Now they face a huge rebuilding process that will initially be led by experienced Australian Alan Gaffney, who arrives at Franklin's Gardens on Monday.

Rather than crying, some Saints supporters sought solace in laughter, with gallows humour the order of the day at Twickenham.

Some suggested Gaffney's plane would be doing a U-turn after the performance, or lack of, that was put on.

But he is very much still coming to town and he will need to bring the sort of cheer Santa provides on Christmas Day if things are to change as quickly as they need to.

Saints badly need a boost, something to turn their season around.

Because right now, they are in free-fall.

They have lost seven successive league matches and if their fans are giving thanks for anything at the turn of the year, it will be the presence of London Irish.

The men from the Madejski Stadium prop up the Premiership, still sitting 13 points behind Saints and needing some sort of miracle to survive.

As poor as Saints have been of late, they surely won't get sucked into a battle at the very bottom.

But whether they can finish any higher than 10th or 11th will very much depend on what sort of impact Gaffney is able to have.

You could say that it will take more than one man to turn it around, and that is of course true, but he can have a huge say.

Saints need some direction and a shake-up, and Gaffney has more than enough experience of the game to provide those things.

It will be up to the players to respond and they will be desperate to sort this mess out.

But with desperation must come composure and Gaffney's wisdom could be crucial as he tries to unpick the problems that have become so striking during the past three months.

It is a huge ask, but the names on the teamsheet simply have to start translating into the performances expected of them.

And somehow they need to shed the anxiety that has built up during the plethora of recent defeats.

Otherwise, there will be many more days like the penultimate one in December, 2017.

And if only for the sake of Saints' pride and their supporters' sanity, that can't be allowed to happen.

How they rated...

HARRY MALLINDER

The young full-back has been a bright spark for Saints in recent times, but this was a horrible day for him as Quins rang rings around their beleaguered opponents... 2

AHSEE TUALA
Made a bright start with a brilliant break, but he wasn't able to contribute after that and was forced off early with an injury... 2

ROB HORNE
Did manage to write his name on the scoresheet, but defensively it was a very difficult day for all Saints players... 3

LUTHER BURRELL
Can be so effective when he's full of belief but, like many of his team-mates, he appears to be lacking that right now and it was a tough day... 2

BEN FODEN
Nothing went right for the wing, with a bouncing ball causing him problems in the build-up to one Quins try and he showed his frustration after dropping the ball late on... 2

PIERS FRANCIS
Hasn't managed to really command the team at 10 as even when he gets rare possession, decisions haven't been paying off and he suffered another injury blow here... 2

NIC GROOM
Grabbed a try as he tried to get Saints playing with some tempo early in the second period, but it wasn't easy for the half-backs... 3

CAMPESE MA'AFU
The prop was impressive against Exeter a week earlier, but he wasn't able to have an influence on this game as Quins ran Saints around... 3

DYLAN HARTLEY
Was unable to have the influence that he typically has on the Twickenham turf and he was unable to stop the Quins surge during the first half... 2

JAMAL FORD-ROBINSON
Has had a baptism of fire at Saints, coming into the team when it was struggling and not being able to garner any belief... 2

API RATUNIYARAWA
The Fijian lock is so strong when he gets front-foot ball, but there was little of that and Quins made Saints' big men toil... 3

COURTNEY LAWES
His performance levels are always among the best in the side, but even he couldn't turn the tide here... 5

TOM WOOD
Always gives it his all, but Saints were all over the place and he wasn't able to have a say in this game... 3

JAMIE GIBSON
Saints' best performer on the day as he made a few key tackles and at least had some impact on the game... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON
Battled on as always, frantically trying to give some life to his team, but that was not an easy task... 5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

GEORGE NORTH (for Tuala 25)

Came into the game when it had pretty much gone and immediately picked up a knock that eventually forced him off... 4

STEPHEN MYLER (for Francis 38)
Was accurate as ever with the tee and at least he was able to provide a slightly steadying influence, showing he is still very important to this team... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD (for Hartley 59)
The hooker grabbed his sixth try of the season in a cameo that was one of the few good things for Saints... 6

BEN NUTLEY (for Harrison 59)
Dropped the ball at a crucial moment after coming on, but it was not an easy situation to come into... 4

CHRON STAR MAN - Marcus Smith (Harlequins)

Jamie Gibson was Saints' stand-out player

Jamie Gibson was Saints' stand-out player

George North made his comeback from injury but was forced off before the end

George North made his comeback from injury but was forced off before the end

Stephen Myler came off the bench to add some assurance with the boot

Stephen Myler came off the bench to add some assurance with the boot