Marler sends Quins to final
Prop scores late try to settle tense affair at Twickenham Stoop
By Mark Kendall - Twitter: @SkySportsMK. Last Updated: 13/05/12 7:55am
Prop Joe Marler rumbled over for a late try as Harlequins produced a stirring finish to clinch a dramatic 25-23 win over Northampton that sealed their place in the Aviva Premiership final.
A predictably tense affair had been dominated by the boots off Ryan Lamb and Nick Evans, with both fly-halves kicking six penalties as the two packs battled for forward superiority.
Lee Dickson appeared to have put Saints on course for victory as he capped a fine move to score the game's opening try on 65 minutes - pushing his side into an eight-point lead.
But Quins held their nerve and battled back in impressive fashion and, after Marler bulldozed over following a tremendous forward drive, Evans landed a crucial conversion to send his side into the Twickenham final for the first time.
With so much at stake, the first half proved a predictably cagey affair and was dominated by defence and also the referee's whistle - especially with Andrew Small proving strict around the breakdown.
Northampton hooker Andy Long was the first man to be penalised and, after an altercation between brothers Lee and Karl Dickson, Quins saw their penalty moved forward ten yards allowing Evans an easier chance to open the scoring, which he accepted.
Lamb levelled on ten minutes when Olly Kohn was pinged for collapsing a maul and, after Evans had produced a surprisingly miss from 30 metres, edged his side ahead as his penalty attempt from close to halfway just crept over the upright.
But almost from the restart Saints were pulled up at the breakdown on their own 22 as Christian Day was adjudged not to have moved away - this time Evans made no mistake to restore parity at 6-6.
It did not last long, though, Lamb kicking a third penalty after Quins were again penalised for collapsing the maul - the offence this time drawing a team warning from referee Small.
With the packs dominating, Northampton winger Paul Diggin offered the first real menace from either three-quarter line just before the half-hour mark with a darting break down the left touchline. But it was to come to nothing and Lamb saw his perfect kicking record come to an end when he fired a long-range effort wide.
The visitors were then required to produce some desperate sliding defence on their try-line to keep Quins at bay, but eventually Roger Wilson turned to illegal means and was shown a yellow card.
In doing so referee Small stopped a frustrated Mike Brown from taking a quick penalty with Northampton's defence exposed, meaning the hosts had to settle for an Evans penalty to again level the scores.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Saints did lead at the break as Lamb booted a fourth penalty on 36 minutes after Kohn was caught offside.
But it was Harlequins who started the second period in much the brighter fashion with their pack beginning to get the upper hand in the forward arm-wrestle.
Their dominance of both territory and possession was rewarded on 47 minutes when Evans levelled matters with his fourth successful kick and, after Nick Easter had burst through to wrap up Dickson and secure another penalty, the New Zealander edged his side in front from the Northampton 22.
The signs appeared ominous for the visitors, but Quins immediately gifted Northampton a penalty of their own when Kohn was pulled up for obstruction from the restart and, having levelled, Lamb then came up with a midfield interception from which Saints would earn another penalty as the retreating Quins defence were caught offside.
Lamb bisected the posts to put Northampton 18-15 up and moments later the momentum appeared to have shifted decisively as, first, Evans pushed a penalty attempt wide, then, Dickson scored his try.
The score came on the back of the game's outstanding move, Ben Foden hitting the line before releasing winger Vasily Artemyev - playing in place of the injured Chris Ashton.
Artemyev's subsequent pass to George Pisi appeared fractionally forward but was not spotted by the officials and Dickson was then on hand to collect James Downey's offload before diving over.
Crucially, however, Lamb would miss a relatively straightforward conversion which looked increasingly costly as Evans kicked his sixth penalty with ten minutes remaining to bring the hosts within five.
The try the home fans craved, and Lamb and Northampton feared, then duly arrived four minutes from time as Marler powered over on the back of a huge forward push, Evans keeping his cool to slot the extras from in front.