Sarries fire title warning to champions Quins and put marker down in new home
PUBLISHED: 18:36 24 March 2013 | UPDATED: 11:36 26 March 2013
Premiership: Saracens 27 Harlequins 12
Saracens signalled their intent to rip the Premiership crown back from Harlequins’ grasps with an utterly dominant victory over the champions to officially open their new Allianz Park home.
It was, in fact, the north Londoners’ fourth game at the Hendon ground where they’ve made a perfect start but Henry Fraser – who was paralysed in a holiday accident in 2009 - officially cut the ribbon on the stadium ahead of kick-off, before brother Will and Schalk Brits claimed the game’s two tries that tied the bow on an extremely satisfying afternoon’s work.
Owen Farrell kicked 17 points - breaking the 400 barrier in 44 league matches - while his Quins counterpart Nick Evans accounted for all of his side’s points but could do little else to affect the outcome as the hosts simply refused to let them play their expansive game – or any game for that matter.
Welcoming the teams on to the pitch the tannoy announcer introduced Saracens as “the soon to be Premiership champions” and it was a billing richly deserved, while the signs for the current holders of that honour were ominous right from the start when the hosts collected their own kick-off and set about taking the contest to them.
Mako Vunipola finished the contest with a bottle of champagne as man-of-the-match and that was an accolade earned from the first knockings as he showed why he’s burst onto the international scene with a steamrolling break from midfield, trampling Danny Care in the process.
Though he was eventually brought to ground by three Quins defenders the passage of play led to the first penalty and Farrell punted it with ease but opposite number Evans evened things up soon after with his own routine shot from in front of the posts.
It did, for a spell of ten minutes give the visitors some possession in Sarries’ territory. Their fly-half set about popping off blind balls to enthusiastic runners who found nothing for their well-chosen lines but a hard wall of black shirts. Evans did put them briefly in the lead with a penalty but Farrell quickly made it all square again on 17 minutes and from there the Premiership leaders assumed control of the half and the contest.
Chris Ashton, no doubt keen to make up for a disappointing Six Nations, wriggled through and pumped those speedy legs before offloading on the way to ground from a challenge to Fraser. The flanker recycled the ball and Matt Stevens was held up short of the line, but it was deemed illegal and Joe Marler was promptly sent to the sin bin to further aid Sarries’ cause.
Two Farrell penalties in five minutes extended the north Londoners’ lead to 12-6 before Brits twisted, turned and bulldozed his way to the opening score - his first for almost two years - after Alistair Hargreaves’ powerful break had put them within striking distance.
Farrell misfired with the conversion and once again before the half time whistle, either side of Evans pulling three points back but also blotting is copybook, as the interval arrived with Saracens 17-9 to the good.
They haven’t thrown away a half time lead for two seasons and so it proved again as they closed the doors on Harlequins in the second half.
The Twickenham side’s only joy came five minutes in when Evans bisected the posts but Sarries quickly upped the ante with a second score – and it was wonderfully worked.
A lightning break from Scotland skipper Kelly Brown shunted them into the Quins 22. On the far side their backs were screaming for the ball, which looked to have been slowed up in the breakdown, but once out Farrell showed a keen eye and an accurate boot to send a cross-field kick into the far corner where it sparked a foot-race between Saracens team-mates Chris Wyles, Hargreaves and Fraser. The latter was quickest and hungriest to the chance and he gobbled up the dropping ball to flop over the line.
The try wasn’t converted but Saracens were so in control it was not a cause for concern and Farrell added a fifth penalty soon after anyway.
Quins had been strangers to Sarries’ territory but Mike Brown changed that when he wriggled from his own half into the only space that the hosts had afforded them all game. He found Ben Botica in support but the replacement fly-half’s blind pass over his shoulder saw the momentum lost, while the attack was eventually illegally stopped in its tracks when Ashton wrung the neck of Maurie Fa’asavalu with a high tackle.
The England wing was sent to the sin bin for the fourth time this term but his side would not be broken and they saw out the contest with some colossal defending that halted Harlequins on the try-line and within a couple of phases had blasted their attack back 15 metres from whence it came.
It was a finale to a clash that cast doubt over whether their Premiership crown would do the same come May and return to the club that held it before them.
For now at least the pendulum of power has very much swung the way of Saracens who sit five points clear at the top of the table.
Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Tomkins, Barritt, Strettle; Farrell, Wigglesworth; Vunipola, Brits, Stevens; Borthwick (c), Hargreaves; Brown, Fraser, Joubert.
Replacements: Smit for Brits (63), Brits for Smit (73), Gill for Vunipola (67), du Plessis for Stevens (66), Kruis for Hargreaves (64), Wray for Brown (60), de Kock for Wigglesworth (55), Hodgson for Farrell (76), Wyles for Strettle (41).
Harlequins: Brown; Monye, Hopper, Turner-Hall, Smith; Evans, Care; Marler, Gray, Johnston; Matthews, Robson; Guest, Robshaw (c), Easter.
Replacements: Buchanan for Gray (47), Lambert for Marler (65), Collier for Johnston (68), Fa’asavalu for Guest (51), Wallace for Matthews (64), Dickson for Care (59), Botica for Evans (59), Lowe for Turner-Hall (54).
Referee: Greg Garner
Attendance: 9, 996