On a day of Premiership Rugby ‘local’ derbies I was heading to The Stoop for the clash between Harlequins, 3rd in the table and Saracens sitting at the top; a team unbeaten in the season up to this point.
Harlequins had only lost 2 games in the Premiership, with Exeter Chiefs and Leicester sneaking past them by a narrow margin. Both teams were therefore going into the game with a good run of form. Saracens had recent bragging rights over Quins in recent times, but on a wet and windy day anything was possible.
I’m going to revert a little here to make a comment about my journey as I did when I first started writing here. I don’t know what it is about the M25 that means drivers get themselves into the 3rd lane of 4 and stay there! But I’ve never seen a motorway like it! No one in the 2 inside lanes, which are after all the lanes we’re meant to travel in, for miles but still they persist on keeping their spot in that 3rd lane! MOVE OVER!! There, that’s my driving rant over!
I was lucky enough to be able to join one half of my good Quins friends Henry and Sue, Sue was working so she very kindly let me have her seat and lunch with her husband! We headed to Patisserie Valerie and partook of Bangers and Mash – which were I have to say quite delicious! A cake for desert was of course a must too!
And so to the rugby – the game pretty much started with a stoppage, if that makes any sense at all. George Kruis was hit by a swinging arm from James Horwill; Kruis was falling as Horwill came into the ruck, he was hit fully in the face. Play continued for a while before the referee noticed the prone player – he then went to the big screen to look at the incident. Having looked again and again after the fact I’m still with the referee on the yellow issued rather than red, although I can see no reason for Horwill coming in as he did. The law is open to some interpretation – this is from the World Rugby site, it’s plain to see – it’s not plain! It’ll be interesting to see if we hear more about this. Hopefully Kruis will be fit in time to take a deserved place in the England 6 Nations squad.
It is recognised of course, as with other types of illegal and/or foul play, depending on the circumstances of the high tackle, the range of sanctions extends from a penalty kick to the player receiving a red card. An illegal high tackle involving a stiff arm or swinging arm to the head of the opponent, with no regard to the player’s safety, bears all the hallmarks of an action which should result in a red card or a yellow card being seriously considered.
Horwill has become a key factor in the Quins scrum and in an incredibly frustrating passage of play Saracens took advantage of that fact. We had 3 scrum penalties awarded against Quins on their line before Saracens finally trundled over with the ball at Billy Vunipola’s feet; Neil de Kock touched the ball down for the first try. I’m not sure a what point a card is brandished in such conditions or a penalty try awarded, but goodness it makes for dull viewing – we really need to look at the rules around scrummaging! Owen Farrell converted to put the visitors ahead.
An efficient forwards dominated try was matched by a piece of training ground brilliance from Quins. Awarded a penalty, to ironic cheers from their fans, they kicked to touch, the ball got tipped down to Danny Care who ran through a huge gap in the lineout, Rob Buchanan was tracking him on the outside, a simple pass saw the hooker in space, he went over to score a cracker! The kick from the sideline sailed to the left of the posts.
Some time before the try Duncan Taylor was very clearly reeling from a knock to the head, he had that spaced out look about him yet no one seemed to notice for what felt like a very long time! He was eventually led off, I’d say at least 10 minutes after the fact and didn’t return, a worry and a surprise considering the fact that Saracens players are monitored. A similar scenario happened later in the game with Jack Clifford, we still don’t seem to be getting this right.
Saracens found themselves with a scrum in the vicinity of the Quins line after Marland Yarde had spilled the ball under pressure from Mike Ellery and the aforementioned Taylor. Billy Vunipola picked the ball up from the base of the scrum and powered over the line, taking Luke Wallace with him, he’s a hard man to stop at speed. Farrell converted to take Saracens to 14.
There was a small moment of controversy as Danny Care seemed to drop a goal as the referee blew for a penalty for his team, it was a good job Nick Evans converted to add the 3 points!
Quins scored an important try with half time looming, Yarde made a great break, seeming to breeze through the Saracens ranks, just shor, Care was next, the recycled ball came out to Evans who made a simply brilliant pass to Jack Clifford who ran in to score. It was interesting to see as the RFU official on the sideline appeared to want Clifford looked at – again he was led from the field for a head injury assessment. Evans converted to send teams in with the scores on Harlequins 15 Saracens 14 at half time.
Saracens bolstered their score with 2 penalties scored by Farrell early in the 2nd half, Farrell was the subject of a TMO/screen intervention as he tackled Mike Brown early in the half. There was a chance that the tackle was dangerous, but the referee was happy it was nothing more than a hard tackle and allowed play to continue. Again that was a good use of technology and the correct decision in my opinion.
Similarly Saracens had a try disallowed after a TMO check saw a clear obstruction by Jackson Wray in the midfield.
A poor kick by Ellery saw the ball scooting off the end of the pitch giving Quins a scrum in a good spot, they seemed renewed in the scrum in the second half and were awarded a penalty, duly converted by Ben Botica who’d replaced a struggling Evans.
The usual raft of substitutions had been taking place and one such was Rhys Gill, I apologise to both him and my fellow Saracens fans for what I said to Henry as he came on – ‘watch out for some trouble and a few penalties here’ – I had no idea how his actions in conjunction with Petrus du Plessis would be what was probably the defining factor in the game.
With the score on Quins 18 Saracens 23 – there’d been a further penalty for both teams – the 2 props were involved in a very dangerous tackle on George Lowe, with du Plessis at the top and Gill with his hands between Lowe’s legs he was driven into the ground head first. Lowe is a player who’s suffered horrendous injury, so firstly it was great to see him getting up unscathed.
The referee was on the spot and brandished a yellow for Gill immediately, it could easily have been shown to both players. He then looked at the challenge on the screen again a couple of times and had the guts to reach into his pocket for a red. That’s the 2nd time I’ve seen that happen, Wayne Barnes did the same at the Wasps v Tigers game last season, that decision was right as was this. The tackle could have broken Lowe’s neck and was serving of a red. Now this could be an argument for dealing with such incidents differently, as suggested by a friend Steve, perhaps check before issuing a card?
The game had been a well contested one to this point, but it’s a very rare team that can come out on top having to see the game out with 14 men. 2 penalties for Quins as Saracens players failed to roll away were converted by Botica putting them ahead by a single point. Another interesting one, I’m never sure how a player can roll away when he’s covered by opposition players – but rules are rules.
We remained in a nail biting situation until the final moments when James Horwill went from villain to hero, picking the ball up from a ruck getting closer to the Saracens line, with Mike Brown adding some power he scored to give his team the win and to see Saracens lose their first game of the season.
What an exciting game of rugby! The atmosphere was on the whole electric, not so impressed with the crowd calling for the red that was eventually given, but that seems to be the way at most grounds these days. Both teams now go into Europe next weekend – here’s hoping for a win for them both! And a place in this years’ top 4 for these 2 teams.