The transformation, if never complete, is now very definitely under way. Northampton may have conceded seven tries and 40 points in the first 40 minutes of this campaign, but they now, somehow, sit at the top of the table, separated from Newcastle by four points worth of differential. It’s a wonderful advert for the purging benefits of a good hiding.That achievement, though, may yet be overshadowed by an allegation of gouging against Kyle Sinckler, Quins’ England and Lions prop. The incident occurred 10 minutes into the second half, when an enraged Michael Paterson claimed he had been victim of one of rugby’s cardinal sins. The ref put it up on the big screen, where Sinckler could be seen ripping off Paterson’s scrum cap, then briefly returning his hand to the environs of Paterson’s face. The footage was inconclusive, but Sinckler was penalised for the original decapping.Paterson told the referee on the field that “100 per cent” there had been “contact with the eye”, but Northampton would not comment further on the incident afterwards. John Kingston, Harlequins’ director of rugby, on the other hand, came out in defence of Sinckler, saying he “unequivocally” did not gouge Paterson.Instead, Kingston muttered darkly about the treatment meted out to Dave Ward, his hooker and captain, who played most of the match with a swollen eye he fought to keep open. “I know how it happened, because he’s told me, and I believe him. He’s not happy about it.” This is unlikely to be the end of the matter, the referee giving notice to the players on the field that the citing procedure will deal with anything they see fit to. Chris Catling, the citing officer, has 48 hours to decide.It was symbolic of a second half that deteriorated into the fractious after an opening period of more fluency. Northampton already had the bonus point when the flare-up occurred, then a 12-point lead when Harry Mallinder knocked over the subsequent penalty. It was no less than they deserved. There is definitely an improvement in simple zest among their ranks, as they leave that horrible opening 40 of the season further behind. Share on Facebook Rugby union Northampton Since you’re here… Share on LinkedIn Reuse this content Topics Premiership Share on Twitter But there remains a certain imprecision. They will wonder how they turned round a mere five points ahead after a first half of almost total dominance. Harlequins barely entered their half in the opening 30 minutes, other than for kick-offs and one breakaway score by Aaron Morris from out of his own 22, set up by a stray Luther Burrell pass.It was a waspish reply to George North’s early score, but the second quarter saw Northampton build a new lead with two tries of the highest calibre. Tom Collins further consolidated his reputation as a waxing star, hitting Mallinder’s inside pass to knife through the first line of defence and leave Marland Yarde and Morris floundering in his wake. Then came the best of the lot, just before the break. Ahsee Tuala was involved twice in a blur of sweet handling, which culminated in Courtney Lawes sending Mikey Haywood to the sticks for the sort of high note Saints have been struggling to hit of late.All the more infuriating for them, then, to see Quins stay in the match with a punch from the ropes, when Jamie Roberts galloped over on the cusp of half-time. No matter, Northampton responded with their fourth try a couple of minutes into the second half, Tuala quickest to Nic Groom’s chip before beating Smith and Yarde to the corner.Saints seemed the more thrown by the gouging allegation, or Quins somehow the more inspired by it. Ward battered his way over in the final quarter to pull the visitors back to within five. For a side stripped of 20 players, several of them key internationals, Harlequins’ tenacity was admirable.They were denied a bonus point, though, by a late penalty from Stephen Myler, on for his first appearance of the season. With a further phalanx of talents on the brink of a return, there’s a new momentum at Franklin’s Gardens, an idea that would have seemed utterly absurd at the start of the very same month. How the wheel turns.Northampton Tuala (Foden 68); North, Horne (Myler 66), Burrell, Collins; Mallinder, Groom (Reinach 61); Waller (Van Wyk 68), Haywood, Brookes (Ford-Robinson 68), Paterson (Ratuniyarawa 68), Ribbans, Lawes (capt), Gibson, Harrison (Dickinson 56) Tries North, Collins, Haywood, Tuala Cons Mallinder 2 Pens MallinderHarlequins Morris (Swiel 66); Yarde, Marchant, Roberts, Visser (Alofa 60); Smith, Care (Lewis 60); Lambert, Ward (capt), Sinckler (Swainston 60), Merrick, Matthews (Lamb 71), Glynn (White 56), Clifford, Luamanu Tries Morris, Roberts, Ward Cons Smith 2 Pen SmithReferee Luke Pearce Attendance 12,806Game rating 7/10 Support The Guardian The Observer Read more match reports Share via Email Harlequins Leicester overcome the elements to knock Exeter off top of the table Share on Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger … we have a small favour to ask. 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