Harlequins’ discarded England contingent took centre stage at The Stoop by inspiring a 30-17 Gallagher Premiership victory that prolongs Northampton’s post-lockdown troubles.
A bonus-point win that keeps Paul Gustard’s team on the fringes of play-off contention was inspired by Mike Brown, the nation’s most capped full-back, whose quick thinking created tries for Nathan Earle and Chris Ashton.
Ashton finished a move that started when Brown schemed his way out of a defensive line-out inside Quins’ 22 and moments earlier Saints had been nudged closer to the precipice by a try from another England veteran in flanker Chris Robshaw.
The club’s seasoned campaigners, a group that also included scrum-half Danny Care, bossed youthful opposition as Northampton slumped to a third defeat in four outings since the five-month break for COVID-19.
While none of the out-of-favour England stars will have forced a rethink from Eddie Jones, who was watching from the stands, Marcus Smith gave the Australian a nudge with a classy display at fly-half alongside a strong afternoon from number eight Alex Dombrandt.
Quins were dominant for most of the afternoon, but they looked brittle early on when their midfield parted far too easily as Rory Hutchinson galloped over for the opening try.
Matt Proctor made the key break and Hutchinson drifted wide to take the scoring pass from his outside centre with the line he picked giving the cover defence little chance behind closed doors at The Stoop.
It then became Saints’ turn to switch off, but only after wing Ryan Olowofela had used his strength and a side-step to seemingly run his team out of trouble until he ruined his good work by conceding a penalty.
Instead of taking an easy three points, Quins reacted quickly through an alert Brown who combined brilliantly with a rampaging Dombrandt before floating the ball to Earle for a routine finish.
Successive line-outs by Saints saw the pendulum swing again, however, with a series of forward drives infield sucking in defenders until James Grayson drilled a long, flat pass for Olowofela to touch down.
But it was Quins who entered half-time 18-14 ahead after a well-executed line-out drive was finished by Scott Baldwin and Smith added his second penalty.
And with half an hour still to play, they had moved out of sight as Robshaw helped himself to an easy try after repeated phases of build-up and Ashton finished a superb move.
Ashton’s try was born out of Brown’s ingenuity as the England full-back shaped to kick before charging downfield where Dombrandt arrived to continue the move and offer Quins’ right wing sight of the line.
Grayson added a penalty for Saints, but there was no way back despite a sustained final surge that was repelled by determined opposition.