Mike Ellery’s an able deputy but Saracens suffer another defeat to Harlequins as the Stoop
PUBLISHED: 13:42 26 September 2016 | UPDATED: 13:42 26 September 2016
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Saracens suffered the first setback of their Premiership title defence on Saturday as their 17-10 loss to Harlequins at the Stoop ended an incredible 13-match winning run which started back in March.
First-half tries from Quins’ Tim Visser and Charlie Walker did the damage in south London and, although Richard Wigglesworth crossed the line in the second period and Ben Spencer kicked a penalty to secure a losing bonus point, the visitors were left to reflect on an out-of-sorts display.
Mark McCall’s men started the season with three consecutive victories, while Quins went into the match on the back of successive defeats to Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs.
However, Harlequins produced an upset against Saracens last season, winning the corresponding fixture against the team that went on to win the domestic and European double – and history repeated itself at the weekend.
Perhaps it is a good omen, in a way, but McCall and his players will probably not be viewing it that way.
Their preparations were surely affected by Chris Ashton’s situation last week. The winger was cited for allegedly biting Northampton Saints’ Alex Waller in Saracens’ previous outing, receiving a 13-match ban, and the club announced on Friday they would not be appealing the decision. It must have affected the players’ focus.
At least Ashton’s replacement, Mike Ellery, was one of the very few Saracens men who produced a good performance.
The 27-year-old carried the ball well and offered himself as an option in the rare spells when the Hendon-based outfit were on the front foot. His role in Sarries’ try – a chip through and slick off-load to Wigglesworth – reiterated the strength in depth in the back line.
Yet constant errors and ill-discipline undermined all of Saracens’ attempts to play their usual attacking rugby, and they were penalised heavily at the set piece again.
That had been area of concern after the hard-fought win against the Saints, and the lessons had not been learned – Quins won frequent turnovers and the opportunities to attack.
The hosts were not even at their best – Saracens were the masters of their own downfall. Their first-half display was littered with handling errors and infringements at the breakdown, gifting their opponents the openings to score their two tries.
McCall’s post-mortem will already have begun as Saracens regroup ahead of Friday’s trip to newly-promoted Bristol, who have lost all four of their top-flight fixtures so far.
Of course, the Premiership season is still in its infancy, and Saracens only lost twice on the road in all competitions last season – one of which came against Harlequins.
Nevertheless, the north Londoners are now chasing Wasps, who have preserved a perfect record of four wins from four – and the top two sides will clash next Sunday.
Sarries have plenty to work on before then and McCall will hope to see a much more convincing performance at Ashton Gate on Friday.