Tim Swinson’s yellow card five minutes from the end cost Glasgow the chance of going into the final round of this season’s European Rugby Champions Cup with something to play for.
The back row replacement had only been on the field for eight minutes, but his left hand upper cut into the face of Northampton’s Mikey Haywood at a driving maul was spotted by the touch judge and French referee Romain Poite had no option other than to give him a 10 minute break.
If losing a player was bad enough, losing control of the ball and good field position was even worse. Steve Myler kicked his side downfield, they tried to score from another close range line-out, but then went cross field in the last play of the game.
Myler’s kick was pin-point and the 6ft 5in tall George North had little problem in out jumping the 6ft Finn Russell and the Wales and Lions wing’s tap down found the supporting Harry Mallinder who crossed for the match winning try. What a way for the teenager, son of Saints director of rugby Jim, to mark his Champions Cup debut!
It meant the home side managed to grab victory from the jaws of defeat and can now go to Parc y Scarlets in round six with a chance of grabbing a best runners-up spot and each the quarter-finals. Glasgow now face a dead rubber final round clash with pool winners Racing 92.
After Racing 92 had literally run away with their home assignment against the Guinness PRO12 leaders, Scarlets, both teams were only playing for second place in Pool 3. The mathematics was stacked against Gregor Townsend’s team for the start and nothing less than two wins in their final two fixtures was going to be good enough to push for a best runners-up ticket into the quarters.
In the first game between these two sides at Scotstoun the Saints set-piece had wrecked the dreams of Warriors fans of seeing their side push for a first European quarter-final. While the scrums were rock solid this time, it only took the Saints 10 minutes to convert a close range line-out into a try for the in-form No 8 Teimana Harrison.
The position for that score was created by one of the six first-half penalties given away at the break down by the Scottish side and they had to work hard at the end of the half to thwart another close range line-out drive from the Saints. At least on that occasion they held firm to ensure they were very much in touch at the break a single point adrift at 7-6.
But while Townsend will have been happy to see his side still very much in the contest, two Finn Russell penalties was scant reward for a side that enjoyed 65 per cent possession, made twice as many carries, enjoyed more gain-line success and had forced the home side make more than three times the number of tackles as them.
Those Russell penalties came in the 24th and 33rd minutes, but the outside half pushed his easiest kick of the half wide of the mark and Stuart Hogg was off target with a third minute howitzer. They would have made a difference had they gone over and when Russell failed with a wide-angled penalty three minutes after the re-start you started to get the feeling it was going to be one of those nights.
Thankfully for Russell, it didn’t take long for the Warriors pressure to squeeze another penalty out of the home side, loose head prop Alex Waller obliging this time, and Russell redeemed himself to give the Warriors the lead for the first time after 48 minutes.
Moments later Russell conceded a scrum in his 22 when he dropped a speculative high ball from Harry Mallinder and when Alex Dunbar gave away a penalty in the 22 for not releasing it was obvious where the ball was going. Harnrahan kicked to the corner, Dylan Hartley found Courtney Lawes and Christian Day bagged the push-over try.
Hanrahan missed the conversion and was hauled off to be replaced by the more orthodox Steve Myler, but it was another second half replacement, the tight head prop Zander Fagerson who made the quickest impact. He forced a penalty out of the Saints scrum in their 22 at his first engagement and that allowed Russell to kick his fourth penalty to level the scores.
Hogg then launched a 50 metre penalty to grab the lead again10 minutes from time, but then ame the yellow card and the Mallinder moment of magic.
Scorers: Northampton Saints: Try: T Harrison, C Day, H Malliner; Con: JJ Hanrahan, S Myler. Glasgow Warriors: Pens: F Russell 4, S Hogg.
Northampton Saints: B Foden; T Collins (H Mallinder 26), G Pisi, L Burrell, G North; JJ Hanrahan (S Myler 51), L Dickson (captain, T Kessell 75); A Waller (E Waller 64), D Hartley (M Haywood 57), P Hill, C Lawes, C Day, J Gibson, T Wood, T Harrison (J Fisher 12-20, 57)
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg (D Weir 78); L Jones (T Naiyaravoro 57), A Dunbar, S Johnson, S Lamont; F Russell, A Price; G Reid (A Allan 65), P MacArthur (S Mamukashvili 62), S Puafisi (Z Fagerson 53), L Nakarawa, J Gray (captain), R Wilson, C Fusaro (T Swinson 68), A Ashe (S Favaro 57)
Yellow Card: T Swinson 75
Referee: R Poite (France)