Northampton made it two wins from two at the start of this season's Aviva Premiership with a hard-fought 20-16 victory over Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop.
Tries from winger Chris Ashton and captain Dylan Hartley along with 10 points from the boot of fly-half Shane Geraghty proved enough to see off a resilient Quins side that had battled back from a 13-0 deficit thanks to a try from centre George Lowe and the boot of No.10 Nick Evans. But in the end they were thwarted by some outstanding defensive work from Saints with a try-saving tackle from fullback Ben Foden on Quins' Joe Marler in the dying moments of the game emphasising the effort required to maintain their unbeaten start to the campaign.
A perfect kick off from Evans laid the foundation for Quins' first attack of the game and winger Tom William should have done better when No.8 Nick Easter found him in plenty of space out wide. Northampton also played their part in an encouraging start to the game and their forwards were denied on the Quins line after some fine work from winger Ashton.
But the Saints continued to press and a penalty against Easter at the breakdown allowed Geraghty to open the scores. The visitors were not immune to referee Andrew Small's whistle and a quick tap and change of direction from Quins scrum-half Danny Care threatened to cut Northampton open only for a poor pass from Mike Brown to bring an end to the move.
Northampton's defence proved rock solid in the opening quarter and only some desperate measures from Quins could shackle Saints when they cranked through the gears. But in doing so they crossed the line which enabled Geraghty the opportunity to stretch his side's lead but he could only push his kick wide of the posts.
Evans was also wide of the mark with his next attempt from long-range but his forwards took up the charge with Easter leading the way. The Saints defence frustrated the hosts at every turn until Care squeezed over after another quick tap - but the score was eventually ruled out by the Television Match Official Geoff Warren with a tackle from flanker Tom Wood preventing the score.
Quins were undeterred and continued to batter away at the Saints' defensive wall but gained little reward for their efforts. Northampton also came away empty-handed from their next foray into their opponents' 22 with their decision to back themselves at the scrum failing to provide them with a try. But Quins failed to clear the danger and the result was a second penalty for Geraghty as the half drew to a close.
But there was still time for Ashton to open his account for the season. A forced pass from Quins fullback Mike Brown on the Saints' 22 went to ground and was pounced up by Saints centre James Downey who put boot to ball. The foot race was then on between Ashton and the Quins defence but there was only going to be one winner with the winger hacking on before claiming the game's opening try. Geraghty's conversion cemented Northampton's lead but Quins struck back with a penalty from Evans - their only reward for dominating the key stats throughout the opening period.
Evans reduced the arrears shortly after the re-start with his second penalty but Quins continued to struggle up front prompting a complete change in personnel with Matt Cairns, Joe Marler and James Johnston entering the fray. Quins continued to chip away at the Saints' lead with Evans notching his third penalty that was the result of some costly indiscipline of the visitors.
Saints threatened to bring their rivals' comeback to a dramatic halt with a scything break from fullback Ben Foden an although a tackle from winger Ugo Monye stopped him in his tracks, a stray hand from Quins flanker Chris Robshaw gifted the visitors a shot at goal.
But Geraghty failed to make them pay and Quins made the most of the let off with their first try of the game. Care and replacement Tom Guest combined well in midfield to create a try for Lowe that was converted by Evans to add fuel to a comeback that had now propelled them into the lead. But back came Northampton with a great pass from Geraghty finding Foden at pace with the Saints fullback denied in the corner by a superb tackle from Lowe.
Quins were handed a chance to extend their lead as the game entered the final quarter with Saints skipper Hartley guilty of a soft penalty but Evans missed a simple chance to register his fourth penalty.
And this time it was Northampton's turn to make their opponents pay with Hartley getting on the end of a sublime move. Replacement Bruce Reihana, Hartely and prop Soane Tonga'uiha produced some excellent handling to weave an opening in the Quins' 22 before the Saints skipper cropped up again to take the ball from deep and crash over for the score and reclaim the lead.
Quins rallied well with a great break from Lowe and the ball was worked wide to Williams who was swamped by defenders a she looked to score in the corner. But a concerted spell of pressure drew yet another penalty but their decision to kick to the corner for the lineout back-fired with Saints snaffling the ball and clearing the danger.
Quins were soon back on the front foot with another quick tap from Care setting the tempo for one final assault and a desperate Saints defence were happy to concede another penalty to half their momentum. The result was a Quins scrum in the shadow of the Saints' posts from with the ball subsequently worked wide to Jordan Turner-Hall and Lowe who carried the ball close.
The ball was recycled again through Easter to Joe Marler who dived for the line only to be wrapped up by a try-saving tackle by Foden with the TMO confirming the fullback's astonishing heroics.
There was still time for one last Quins scrum and Care cut through the Northampton defence but was stripped of the ball as he closed in on the line and Saints delighted in clearing the ball and claiming the win.