International returns propel Saints to win

Date published: March 28 2016

Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder revealed his happiness at having Test stars such as George North back for Sunday's win over Harlequins.

Saints scored four tries but the contest was kept alive by the boot of Ben Botica for Harlequins, his third penalty earning a losing bonus point.

A try in the 74th minute from Harry Mallinder, son of boss Jim, clinched the result for Saints.

The 2014 champions are now back in the top four ahead of a final push for the playoffs, and Mallinder feels good about how the squad performed during the Six Nations without their leading stars.

"We were pleased to defend the lead and come away with five points. It was generally a very good performance," said Mallinder.

"Defensively, we had a couple of lapses where we let them score relatively easy tries without having to do too much.

"We scored some cracking team tries, which I was pleased about. Certainly, bits of our defence we need to work on, but overall it was pretty good.

"We're back in the top four and that's where we wanted to get back to. We had a disappointing start to the season but we've been working hard.

"Particularly over the Six Nations period, we've done well, won the majority of our games and it's just nice to get these international players back.

"I was really impressed with George North, who was outstanding for us."

Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea meanwhile admitted that his side's bid to make the top four wasn't in their own hands following Sunday's defeat, and targeted a response next weekend against struggling Newcastle.

"It was a very high quality game between two good sides. It's never going to be easy coming to Franklin's Gardens," O'Shea said.

"I thought we had a real opportunity as we got into the second half and we got that lead from Jack's (Clifford) score.

"But there were some big penalties that went Northampton's way and the whole momentum shifts into your half. Those are the margins at the very highest level.

"We can't control anything ourselves now. We've just got to do a job against Newcastle next week and keep on playing to the best of our ability.

"We've got so much that we need to do for the remainder of this season."