Premiership: Northampton 22-20 Harlequins
|Northampton (17) 22|
|Tries: North, Waller, Ratuniyarawa Cons: Mallinder 2 Pen: Mallinder|
|Harlequins (17) 20|
|Tries: Horwill, Marchant Cons: Evans 2 Pens: Evans 2|
Harlequins pipped Northampton Saints to sixth spot in the Premiership despite losing a final-day thriller at Franklin's Gardens.
Quins' losing bonus point was enough to secure automatic qualification for next season's European Champions Cup.
After James Horwill's early try, the hosts hit back through George North and Alex Waller in an enthralling first half but Joe Marchant put Quins ahead.
Api Ratuniyarawa won it for Saints but their winning margin was not enough.
The hosts pushed for a late try in a bid to deny Quins their losing bonus point - which would have lifted Saints up to sixth - but the visitors' defence held firm.
The two sides finished level on 52 points but Harlequins finished above Northampton by virtue of winning 11 games over the course of the season to Saints' 10.
The visitors made the perfect start when captain Horwill powered over early. The departing Nick Evans converted before added a further three points from a penalty after Saints were penalised at a scrum.
But Northampton hit back through North's neat try and were soon ahead when Waller collected Louis Picamoles' offload to cross and Harry Mallinder kicked the extras.
But, after Evans had missed two three-point opportunities, centre Joe Marchant darted down the blindside to restore Quins' lead and Evans' conversion was good, before Mallinder levelled things.
In a tense second half, Saints threw everything at their rivals, but Quins were able to limit them to just Ratuniyarawa's try and they knew that a narrow defeat was enough for their first top-six finish since 2014.
But Saints were condemned to finishing below sixth spot for the first time since 2009, when they cam eeighth.
They must now wait for the result of Gloucester's Challenge Cup final this Friday against Stade Francais at Murrayfield (12 May, 20:00 BST) to learn if they will make the Champions Cup play-offs.
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder:
"We have got our club dinner on Monday evening, so the players will have a couple of days off now and then we will come back, keep the players ticking over and see what happens on Friday night.
"We will reflect anyway that it has been a disappointing season, I don't think you can describe it as anything else. We set our standards high, we want to be in the top four and fighting for play-off places. It is competitive, but I do think we have a side and a squad that can do that.
"I am optimistic about next season. We have some signed some really good players at nine, 10 13, prop and back row, who will add to the squad and next year we can get better."
Harlequins director of rugby John Kingston:
"We have also had a volley of injuries this season. Plus we have made adjustments to our game in several ways, which we think in the long term are the right things to do.
"And, with the England Elite Player Squad, we are up to about eight players now, which puts stresses and strains on the squad. Something in the region of 45 players have played for Quins this season, which is crazy.
"Set against all of those obstacles I am delighted we have got something of substance at the end of the year. It is not a trophy, but it is something we have not had at the club for three years and it keeps us moving forward."
Northampton: Tuala; North, Tuitavake, Burrell; Foden, Mallinder, Groom; Waller, Hartley, Brookes, Lawes, Ribbans, Gibson, Wood (capt), Picamoles
Replacements: Haywood, Ma'afu, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Harrison, Dickson, Olver, Hutchinson
Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Marchant, Roberts, Visser; Evans, Dickson; Marler, Buchanan, Sinckler, Matthews, Horwill (capt), Robshaw, Wallace, Luamanu.
Replacements: Gray, Lambert, Collier, Merrick, Ward, Mulchrone, Swiel, Alofa.
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