Harlequins 41 Northampton Saints 32: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints were beaten at Twickenham (photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)Saints were beaten at Twickenham (photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
Saints were beaten at Twickenham (photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
Whatever you think of the events that unfolded at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon, it cannot be denied that the optics of it were terrible for a league that is desperately trying to sell itself.

This should have been a glowing example of how great the Gallagher Premiership is as its two swashbuckling Investec Champions Cup semi-finalists took to England’s biggest stage.

However, rather than casting the league in a hugely positive light, the opposite was achieved.

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In fact, it was made to look almost amateur by what happened before, during and after the match between Harlequins and Saints.

Firstly, the RFU made the strange decision to appoint a referee who spent eight years playing for one of the teams in action, and who still lists that club in his bio on social media.

Then we had the events that unfolded as man in the middle Karl Dickson went to his pocket to dismiss former team-mate Danny Care, only to hesitate and then consult his TMO, Andrew Jackson.

Jackson had already had a couple of debatable moments earlier in the match as he appeared to miss a forward pass in the build-up to Saints’ first try and then helped to rule out what would have been a second five-pointer for the away side, saying there had been been a knock-on from Alex Mitchell before Sam Graham stretched out an arm to score.

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For his part, Dickson was far too reliant on Jackson to make decisions. Having initially seemed firm, he softened quickly and second guessed himself on several occasions.

In many ways you can’t blame him for being hesitant given the situation he was placed in.

He was between the rock and a hard place of not being seen to be too generous to Harlequins while trying not to overcompensate and give Saints too much.

He is a human being who will, consciously or sub-consciously, be concerned about perception, no matter how professional he is.

And that feeds doubt.

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As Dickson reconsidered his decision to issue a red - it was the second time in the match he had seemed to go to his pocket but not produced a card - Care avoided the ultimate punishment.

However, he still left the field immediately as he was replaced by Will Porter, who came on and scored two tries to win the match for Harlequins.

It had horrible echoes of the play-off semi-final Dickson refereed at Saracens last season when Sean Maitland escaped a yellow card for taking Saints full-back George Furbank out in the air and then went on to score twice as Mark McCall’s men booked their place in the showpiece.

Dickson was also in charge of Saints’ game at Leicester earlier this season when there was deemed to be a knock-on from Henry Pollock before for Tommy Freeman dotted the ball down, but replays appeared to show the referee and TMO had come to the wrong conclusion.

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So Saints’ recent history with the official in the biggest of matches is far from good.

To compound matters on this occasion, after full-time Care appeared on TNT Sports alongside Lawrence Dallaglio and close friend and former Quins team-mate Ugo Monye as a joke was made of the whole red card escape situation.

Some may say lighten up - us critics are no fun at (Big Summer Kick-Off) parties, are we?

But Saints won’t be laughing if this defeat costs them a home play-off semi-final or even a top-four place at the end of a season in which they have worked so hard.

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There was always a huge risk in appointing Dickson to this match.

And while the outcome wasn’t all about him, there was always a strong chance he would be in the headlines, one way or the other.

The RFU had so many easy options to avoid all of this.

But they chose not to.

And the big question now is: would they do the same again?

And would they even go as far as to have him refereeing a Harlequins game at Twickenham if it were the Premiership final?

Surely not, you may say.

But nothing would surprise you after this.

Let’s make it clear though, this wasn’t all about one man.

Saints will be well aware that they had to shoulder plenty of the blame at Twickenham.

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In both red zones, they were simply not effective enough, conceding a try seemingly every time Quins got into the 22 while failing to make the most of having a man advantage for 30 minutes of the match.

Saints rarely troubled Quins during those three sin-bin periods and were nowhere near as sharp as they have been so often this season.

They had won 14 of their previous 15 matches but this was far more like the defeat at Bristol than the victories they have delivered.

Saints were far too porous, bringing back unwanted memories of last season as they shipped points with little resistance.

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But credit must go to Quins, who are a razor-sharp attacking team and who have proved they can cut apart any defence in Europe when they are up and running.

The hosts’ handling was impressive and in stark contrast to that of Saints, who coughed up possession on far more occasions than we are accustomed to seeing from this talented team.

All of that being said though, Saints were just six points down at the time of the disallowed try late in the first half.

And they were behind by the same margin when Care escaped a second yellow card.

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Saints then took the lead and, had they been playing against 14 men, they would have clearly had a far greater chance of leaving with more than the single try bonus point they had already secured.

The fact Porter, Care’s replacement, was the man who scored the two tries that eventually won the match for Quins was real salt in the gaping wounds.

No one wanted this match to revolve around a scrum-half with an affiliation to Quins.

But unfortunately for Saints, it ended up revolving around three of them.

How they rated…

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GEORGE FURBANK – led a couple of counter-attacks with his trademark running and didn’t do much wrong here, providing a lovely inside pass for Ramm to score… 6.5

JAMES RAMM – had a tricky time with a couple of high balls but made an impact when he was in possession, adding another try to his tally… 6.5

TOMMY FREEMAN – couldn’t quite have the influence he so often does as Quins dealt with him well and kept him in tight spaces… 6

TOM LITCHFIELD – a really good performance from the centre, who scored one and set another up with a fine chip over the top… 7.5

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OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME – was forced off early in the second half with a head injury, which Saints will desperately hope isn’t too bad as he showed his class once again with yet another try here… 6.5

FIN SMITH – couldn’t really have the kind of impact on this game that he’s had on so many others this season… 6

ALEX MITCHELL – a typically lively presence who kept Quins on their toes throughout, searching for openings time and again… 7

MANNY IYOGUN – helped to win an early statement scrum penalty and looked strong… 6.5

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SAM MATAVESI – a couple of passes didn’t go to hand, but he was hungry for action as he tried to get hold of the ball as much as possible… 6.5

TREVOR DAVISON – not really a day for props as the backs stole the show, but this man never lets the team down… 6

TEMO MAYANAVANUA – really got into the game early on as he looked to use his strength to get Saints on the front foot, but Quins finally got to grips with him… 6.5

TOM LOCKETT – put in a good shift for his team, making a couple of big hits that showed he wasn’t fazed by the big stage… 6.5

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COURTNEY LAWES – another big showing from the club legend as he scored the bonus-point try and almost galloped over for an earlier effort as he was hugely involved throughout… 7.5

LEWIS LUDLAM – found himself on the wrong side of the referee once or twice and saw his day end in agony as he was forced off with what appeared to be a painful injury, but he tried to power on… 6

SAM GRAHAM – came off early in the second half, having endured a frustrating end to the first period as his try was harshly ruled out… 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

FRASER DINGWALL (for Sleightholme 50) – Saints would have wanted to give him more of a breather but he had to come on for Sleightholme and really put himself about… 6.5

JUARNO AUGUSTUS (for Graham 50) – one pass didn’t find a target but aside from that, he made some good inroads with his raw physicality… 6.5

CHRON STAR MAN - Luke Northmore (Harlequins)

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