December 9 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe at The Stoop
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Premiership: Harlequins 12 Saracens 22
If somewhere along the road this season, Saracens discover how to put together a comprehensive 80 minutes then they may just be unstoppable – but for now they’ll just have to put up with being plain old dominant.
The Hendon outfit could even afford to huff and puff in the first half, coming off suitably second best in virtually every department, but London rivals Harlequins could not inflict any serious damage as the only points came via the boots of Nick Easter and Owen Farrell.
But they emerged from the half time break and gave the hosts a lesson in how to win ugly as Chris Ashton stormed over for the only score of the game – and his second of the season. But it was his side’s forward line - complete with captian Steve Borthwick making his 250th Premiership appearance - that turned the tide.
A devastating driving maul was put into frequent practice as they ground out a fourth consecutive win to maintain the league’s only 100 per cent record. Well, almost, as for the first weekend this term they didn’t collect a try bonus point, but that would be splitting hairs.
Last weekend they’d achieved that by half time against Bath but their opening 40 minutes today at The Stoop couldn’t have been further removed from that try blitz, six days earlier.
Time and again they failed to look after the ball in possession and, for the first occasion this season, found their midfield wanting in contact.
Yet somehow they still carved out the better chances only to be kept at bay by unfavourable bounces of the ball, slippery handling and a fabulous last-ditch tackle on Brown from Tom Williams, celebrating a double century of Quins appearances.
Really, in the face of such misfortune, that they went in at the half time break just six points behind should have been more a cause for concern for Quins.
Evans had handed them an early advantage with a penalty and the Kiwi then had a huge let-off as his clearance box-kick deep in his own 22 was charged down by Richard Wigglesworth. Unluckily for the Sarries scrum-half as he entered the in-goal area his feet went out from under him as the ball bounced the other way.
But from five minutes on, Quins took the game to their London rivals and two quick turnovers put them on the front foot, setting the tone for the first period.
However, David Strettle did find room to pin his ears back but as he arrowed for the corner George Lowe thwarted the wing with a covering tackle.
Quins best chance came when opposite number Ugo Monye was given too much room out wide. The speedy star still had a lot to do from the halfway line but he wisely opted to kick and chase only for Alex Goode to cynically impede him. The Saracens full-back was sent to the bin after referee Martin Fox watched the replays on the big screen, but still the hosts couldn’t make the most of their numerical advantage.
Evans bisected the uprights with the resulting penalty but Farrell returned fire and the score remained 6-3 until Saracens’ ranks were restored to their full XV.
Before Goode returned from the sidelines, the visitors were let off as Evans spotted room for Monye to manoeuvre and sent a crossfield kick his way only to see a cruel bounce stop the winger in his tracks.
But the individual battles continued to favour Quins and that presented their fly-half with the chance to extend the lead and he duly obliged from the kicking tee.
Further handling errors suggested that it wasn’t to be Sarries’ day but then Brown, on his first start since returning from an ankle ligament injury, scythed through the home rearguard from a short lineout and looked to have scored. A definite decision was delayed as a mass brawl broke out which eventually saw Maurie Fa’asavalu sent to the bin for pulling Jacques Burger’s hair, but not before Television Match Official Sean Davey had chalked off Brown’s effort due to a magnificent saving tackle from Williams that prevented the Scot from grounding the ball.
Quins pulled down a ruck to offer Farrell a shot at goal and his success should have seen his side trail just 9-6 at half time but once more they infringed to see Evans extend the lead.
There was still time for another agonising near miss for the visitors as Duncan Taylor’s offload put Strettle in but the winger knocked on beyond the line just as he was dreaming of a fifth score in three games.
Sarries couldn’t make use of Fa’asavalu’s absence but as soon as the
Samoan returned Farrell plugged a penalty and was then involved as Ashton ran in under the posts for the crucial score.
Still there was controversy as Mr Fox appeared to award the try but then stood watching the big screen and communicating with the TMO. The Stoop faithful felt certain that Farrell’s pass to Chris Wyles in the build-up was forward but the official stuck with his original call and Farrell’s conversion gave Saracens the lead for the first time in the game.
Things got worse for Quins as prop Joe Marler was yellow carded for deliberately pulling down a Saracens maul five metres from the try-line. Farrell kicked to the corner and the play went infield and back where a wayward pass from Goode to Wyles denied what would have surely been a second score and the match. However, Sarries had the benefit of an advantage and Farrell fired through the posts and repeated the feat soon after to extend the visitors’ lead to 19-12.
Now it was Harlequins who were guilty of multiple infringements and Farrell punished a third in quick succession with another accurate punt.
Superb backs-to-the-wall defending from the Hendon side, and in particular Mako Vunipola, relieved the only real concerted piece of pressure from Quins.
As the clock ticked down Evans was offered the chance to reduce the arrears to six points but hit the post as his effort swirled in the wind – a gust which blew away any hopes of home victory but filled the sails of Saracens as they reasserted their place but on top of the Premiership pile.
Harlequins: 15. Brown, 14. Williams, 13. Lowe, 12. Casson, 11. Monye, 10. Evans, 9. Care; 1. Marler, 2. Buchanan, 3. Collier, 4. Easter, 5. Robson, 6. Fa’asavalu, 7. Robshaw (c), 8. Guest
Replacements (all used): 16. Ward, 17. Lambert, 18. Sinckler, 19. Trayfoot, 20. Wallace, 21. Dickson, 22. Botica, 23. Hopper
Saracens (all used): 1. M. Vunipola, 2. Brits, 3. Stevens, 4. Borthwick (c), 5. Kruis, 6. Brown, 7. Burger, 8. B. Vunipola; 9. Wigglesworth, 10. Farrell; 11. Strettle, 12. Taylor, 13. Wyles, 14. Ashton; 15. Goode
Replacements: 16. George, 17. Auterac, 19. Johnston, 19.Hargreaves, 20. Wray, 21. De Kock, 22. Tagicakibau, 23. Wilson
Referee: Martin Fox
TMO: Sean Davey