A visit to The Stoop always gives me the chance to spend time with my Quins supporting friends Sue & Henry, we met for a Costa and were all quite cagey about how we thought the game might go. Quins, the Champions and second in the league playing Saracens sitting at third. My seat in the North Stand had me reaching for my new cap, the sun was shining straight into our eyes. Saracens fans had been able to buy tickets close to each other but not in a big group, that will have been in no small part done to the number of season ticket holders watching this entertaining team ply their trade. Both teams were without their England players, strange in many ways as this match was taking place out of the Autumn International window. I’d watched Wales playing against the All Blacks, missing many of their first choice players. Premiership Rugby wise this weekend also saw the Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers ‘local derby’ The 4 teams were missing 17 players between them. Annoyingly both reverse fixtures take part during the Six Nations, that frankly, is ridiculous!
On to the game, that old chestnut, a game of 2 halves was definitely apt: Across the game Saracens missed 27 tackles, it would be no shock to me to know most of those misses happened in the first half. Tyrone Green playing at Full Back for Quins seemed to have an invisibility cloak on! I’ve been impressed by him when I’ve watched him on the TV and he definitely enhanced my thoughts on him.
Both team were missing their Fly Halves with Alex Lozowski starting for Saracens and Tommaso Allen for Quins. Vincent Koch was lucky not to see a yellow card in the first 2 minutes, when he hit Allen late, there was not a single arm involved, but the connection seemed to be in the back, not the head. For some reason the TV showed a superb, hard tackle by Lozowski rather than the knock that gave away the penalty. Hugh Tizard benefited from a marauding run through the middle from Esterhuzen to power over the line himself. The conversion was missed (a mention for my ‘favourite’ pundit, he was thrilled with the Quins Try, I always thought Lawrence was a Wasps man)
Saracens were awarded a penalty moments later, cooly slotted over by Lozowski, keeping them within 2 points, a second put them ahead by one. Quins came back in some style after Green had made a great catch from a high ball. A lovely offload from number 8 Tom Lawday out on the wing to Murley who then finished the try brilliantly. Another exciting young Quin! The kick, a difficult one was good.
Harlequins lost Tommy Allen to an HIA, then permanently, on 22 minutes, there didn’t seem to have been any further knocks for him, which is a real concern if it was a result of Koch’s challenge in the first 2 minutes. Especially as he was concussed 3 weeks ago.
Lozowski added another 3 points before Green on the outside of Lawday again, ran in a lovely try, huge praise has to go to the big Number 8, he could easily have been MOM for me. Raptures again from Lawrence. A moment of controversy came moments later, unbelievably he thought Deano Lamb’s no arms clear out on Andy Christie was all ok. A yellow card seemed the correct punishment to me, it was an unnecessary and daft thing to do. Cue boo’s from the Quins crowd, yet it could’ve been a red too. The ex Quins player Ugo Monye was positive about the card, go figure. The teams went in with the score on Harlequins 19 Saracens 9 at half time.
Saracens started the second half with a try for Dom Morris, showing he could match the speed of the Quins players, the ball was spun across the pitch, with that 10 in a props body, Mako Vunipola involved twice with his lovely soft hands. The conversion was good closing the gap to 3. Ben Earl entered the fray 5 minutes into the second half with Andy Christie making way. Saracens try was the only score during the yellow card spell. It’s clearly easier to see player reactions on the TV, Quins won a good penalty after work on a Saracens maul, more good work by Tom Lawday, it was disappointing to see Billy Vunipola questioning the decision with the Assistant Referee. Danny Care had managed to get right up Billy V’s nose throughout the game and it really showed at times. He managed to pretty much hold Billy into a ruck to get a penalty, a moment of comedy as he lifted Care in the air as they got up from the ground. Emotions were definitely building up!
Quins had a couple of opportunities close to the Saracens line as they were awarded a run of penalties around the ruck, things seemed to slow down on another penalty advantage and Care chose to take a drop goal, that went down well with the home crowd as might be expected, but it ultimately looked like the wrong decision.
A perfectly judged kick from Care stopped a centimetre from being rolling off the pitch, Alex Goode made an attempt to con the Referee but he checked and a goal line dropout was the end result. Saracens turned the ball over moments later however. Quins then gave away a penalty which helped Saracens clear their lines. A Quins penalty saw an attempt at the posts, having eschewed several easier kicks, it hit the posts, and happily from the perspective of this Saracens fan Ben Earl was there to catch the ball, no Joe Marchant shenanigans this time!
Saracens were next on the scoreboard, after Quins were pinged for being offside after the ball was knocked on. Lozowski really is an accomplished kicker and he took his team to within 3 again. A further successful kick on 71 minutes evened the scores up at 22 a piece.
Saracens had the last word as the ball was spread from one wing to the other, the third of the Alex’s, Alex Lewington ran through a couple of defenders after a peach of a pass from Lozowski, Jackson Wray of all people was on his shoulder and ran in to touch down, Lozowski added the 2 to his personal tally. Quins had just 2 minutes to try to get back in the game, sadly Billy V went off injured with just a minute of the game remaining. It’s interesting to note that Mako V played the full 80, most unusual!
Saracens came away with the 4 points, a hard fought win in front if an enviable crowd, the atmosphere is always an impressive one at the Stoop. The game wasn’t the best, the result, as a Saracens fan, was a pleasing one. Alex Lozowski was awarded his second Man of the Match award, he orchestrated the Saracens win with some style, it was well deserved.
But best of all for me was the tome spent with good friends. The teams swap positions in the table and go again next week, London Irish at home for Saracens and Wasps away for Quins.