Harlequins booked their place in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup after claiming a 39-29 victory over the Sharks.
Danny Care scored a try on his 350th appearance for Harlequins as the famous Quarters surged into the round of 16 in an entertaining match with the Sharks.
The hosts led 24-22 at half-time thanks to tries from scrumhalf Care, number eight Alex Dombrandt, and winger Cadan Murley, with fly-half Marcus Smith converting all three and a penalty.
Centre Lukhanyo Am scored the first try for the Sharks, with scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse and lock Eben Etzebeth both dotting down before the break, Curwin Bosch converting two tries and adding one penalty.
Harlequins started the second half brilliantly, with lock Stephan Lewies powering over the line after just three minutes, with full-back and man of the match Nick David scoring a stunning solo try soon after. Smith converted David’s score and added a penalty to stretch Quins’ lead, with the Sharks scoring just once in the second half through full-back Aphelele Fassi.
The 2021 Premiership champions revelled in the sunshine at Twickenham Stoop to continue the revival begun against Racing 92 a week earlier, clinching their first victory since December 18.
They led 21-8 in the first 20 minutes alone and having faced a spirited comeback from a Sharks team featuring South Africa stars Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Ox Nche and Lukhanyo Am, they accelerated clear once more in the third quarter.
Murley and David were their most influential performers, their explosive running leading the way after weeks of rain and icy weather had robbed Quins of their attacking mojo.
At times it was a superb spectacle and a high octane start alone produced three tries inside the opening 10 minutes.
While Am pounced first for the Sharks, the lead was quickly overturned. Care was the first over the whitewash with a show and go from short range and the visiting defence was also taken apart moments later when Dombrandt touched down.
Andre Esterhuizen, Smith and David had made key contributions to a brilliant second try and in the 18th minute they struck again when a commanding maul was followed by deft handling to provide Murley with a simple run in.
Harlequins pressed again but the Sharks held out this time and when wing Marnus Potgieter punched a hole in their defence, scrum-half Hendrikse was in support to finish.
Having been staring down the barrel, the South African side continued their revival through an opportunistic try by Etzebeth, who seized the ball at the base of a ruck under the nose of Care and galloped over.
Care protested furiously and Dombrandt sought clarification from referee Nika Amashukeli as the scrum-half had not lifted the ball when Etzebeth intervened, but the problem was with Joe Marler’s binding.
Tries continued to come thick and fast as Lewies went over from a line-out drive and following a spell of end to end play David ran in his side’s fifth with a solo try made possible by his vision and speed.
Murley blazed upfield but the England prospect just lacked the gas to finish the move before Smith landed a penalty to extend the lead to 19 points.
Repeatedly when the Sharks moved into home territory they were penalised for a breakdown offence, but pressure was building and they were finally over in the closing stages through full-back Fassi.
Northampton flanker Courtney Lawes limped off in the 29th minute of the 31-13 defeat to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup to put in doubt his participation in this season’s Six Nations.
Lawes has been beset with injuries of late and if he is ruled out it will be a serious blow to England’s chances of a successful campaign.
The loss of Lawes completed a miserable afternoon for Saints, as centre Fraser Dingwall was sent off for a high challenge just 10 minutes after Lawes had left the field and lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto also received a red card in the dying moments.
With these two key departures, Saints had no chance of competing with the reigning champions so they fell to their fourth defeat in the competition, which left them rooted to the bottom of Pool B with just a single point.
Quentin Lespiaucq-Brettes scored two tries for La Rochelle, Levani Botia, Ulupano Seuteni and Gregory Alldritt the others with Antoine Hastoy kicking three conversions.
Tom James scored a try for Northampton with Fin Smith adding two penalties and a conversion.
Northampton had the first chance for points with Smith’s 50-metre penalty attempt sailing wide but the outside half soon made amends with a 25=metre kick to give his side a 12th-minute lead.
Saints continued to have the better of the opening quarter but try-scoring opportunities were at a premium. The nearest opportunity came when a kick and chase from George Furbank saw him nail Dillyn Leyds close to the opposition line but the visitors regrouped to clear the danger.
The first 20 minutes was punctuated by penalties, nine in all, so it was no surprise that Smith’s penalty was the only score during that period.
It was against the run of play when the French side scored the first try. An excellent touch-finder from Antoine Hastoy secured a platform in the home 22 from where La Rochelle went through the phases before Botia forced his way over.
Hastoy converted before the home side suffered another setback when Lawes hobbled off to be replaced by Alex Coles.
The visitors also picked up an injury blow when Leyds was forced to exit the field to fail an HIA, with Dingwall sent off for the high challenge on him to leave Saints trailing 7-3 at the interval.
Five minutes after the restart, Smith kicked a second penalty but La Rochelle emphasised their forward power when replacement hooker Lespiaucq-Brettes finished off a driving line-out.
Saints looked in trouble but when the visitors’ scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sin-binned for a deliberate offside they immediately capitalised when replacement James finished off a neat round of passing.
However the French side quickly responded with two tries in quick succession with both Alldritt and Lespiaucq-Brettes crashing over from close range.
Northampton’s race was now run and a break from Jules Favre created the visitors’ fifth try for Seuteni which ensured a home tie for La Rochelle in the next round of the competition.
To complete Saints’ woe, Salakaia-Loto was sent off in the last minute for leading with his forearm.