Arriving in good time for the game I was surprised at how many empt seats there were, it would never have entered my mind not to attend this match, having been starved of live rugby for so long. Unless of course people were at Twickenham, but I suspect there were too many gaps for that to be the case.

One of the ‘problems’ with this competition is the lack of rules around who should be playing in the team, there is a thought that this should, ideally be a team made up of young, upcoming and fringe players, but it is only that, a thought. Some clubs stick ti that spirit, others don’t, or very possibly, can’t. The reduction to the Salary Cap, explained here https://debsknigsport.com/2021/11/04/wales-v-new-zealand-with-some-salary-cap-stuff-too/ means many clubs will have a smaller playing roster. Every club can choose to play whoever they desire; I’d judge it’s better for overall development of players to go with the spirit of the competition, if not making it more likely to win the actual cup.

The competition is made up of 3 ‘leagues’, the winner of each group and the highest ranked second placed team will progress to the semi-finals. All teams will play 4 matches, including a cross pool match. The groups are made up as follows

  • Pool 1
    • Gloucester Rugby
    • Bristol Bears
    • Exeter Chiefs
    • Worcester Warrirors
    • Bath Rugby
  • Pool 2
    • Leicester Tigers
    • Newcastle Falcons
    • Sale Sharks
    • Wasps Rugby
  • Pool 3
    • Harlequins
    • London Irish
    • Northampton Saints
    • Saracens

Both Saracens and Harlequins have a good history of bringing through home grown players and both teams included a number of fresh faces, although Quins shaded things on that front; the starting line ups were –

Saracens

  1. Richard Barrington
  2. Ethan Lewis
  3. Alec Cleary
  4. Cameron Boon
  5. Callum Hunter-Hill
  6. Theo McFarland
  7. Sean Reffell
  8. Amdy Christie (c)
  9. Ruben de Haas
  10. Manu Vunipola
  11. Rotimi Segun
  12. Duncan Taylor
  13. Dom Morris
  14. Ben Harris
  15. Elliot Obatoyinbo

16. Theo Dan, 17. Sam Crean, 18. Sam Wainwright, 19. Ollie Stonham, 20. Toby Knight, 21. Ivan van Zyl, 22. Brandon Jackson, 23. Tom Mills.

Andy Christie, captain for the day.

Harlequins

  1. Simon Kerrod
  2. Jack Musk
  3. Craig Tenier
  4. Hugh Tizard
  5. Stephen Lewis (c)
  6. Matas Jurevcius
  7. Luke Wallace
  8. Archie White
  9. Lewis Gjaitema
  10. Jamie Benson
  11. Aaron Morris
  12. Lennox Anyanwu
  13. Huw Jones
  14. Ross Chisholm
  15. Nick David

16. George Head, 17. Tom Osborne (Oxford Uni), 18, Will Collier, 19. George Hammond, 20. Makeen Alikhan, 21. Jack Stafford, 22. Hayden Hyde, 23. Oscar Beard.

The proceedings started with a very touching Remembrance ceremony I confess it brought tears to my eyes, happily the rugby didn’t! Saracens fans had sat through seeing their team going from a lead of 34- 8 to a 34 All draw against London Irish, this game had looked like it might be going a similar way towards the end! My Nerves!

Saracens first try was all about the Forwards as Richard Barrington scored, a player signed from Jersey to play in the old Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2013; he now has 204 appearances and has helped Saracens win the aforementioned Anglo-Welsh Cup, three European Cups and four Premiership titles, he clearly isn’t one of those fresh faces! He forced his way over the line on 14 minutes after a scrum.

Manu Vunipola added the extras, Saracens second try was all about the speed as Dom Morris starting at Outside Centre backed himself after a great pass from winger Rotimi Segun, to wend his way round several Quins defenders. He really is speedy, he ran pretty close to the side line, but managed to stay in the field of play to touch down. A difficult kick for Vunipola but he was equal to it. Saracens led by 14 after 31 minutes.

A series of penalties for Quins saw a series of line outs all won by Matas Jurevicius at the front of the line out, it took a couple of goes, but he eventually scored as the maul rolled over the line and Quins were on the scoreboard on 33 minutes.

Saracens stretched the gap back to 14 just before half-time when new arrival this season, Theo McFarland powered over the line, after his forwards colleagues had got him close with a series of inches made. The 26 year old Samoan has 2 caps for his country and has also played basketball internationally too. There is a hint of Will Skelton about him, he played 6 in this game, but Saracens will I’m sure be looking at him to play in the second row. Another perfect kick from Vunipola and the teams went in with the score on Saracens 21 Harlequins 7.

There was a strange moment in the first half when, a medic was on the pitch, looking out for a Saracens player (I think) with a scrum about to happen, the referee asked Lewis Gjatelma if Quins were going to pass that way, and with a negative reply play carried on. A bit bizarre that!

Harlequins had the first word in the second half, another score after a line out, but this time the ball was passed straight to Archie White who went over without the help of his colleagues. The conversion was good and the gap was back to a single score.

Saracens hit back straight away, a grubber kick from Duncan Taylor saw them back in the Quins 22 and making the most of the possession McFarland scored his second and Saracens bonus point try. Sadly Taylor left the pitch not long after with what looked like a shoulder injury, he looked to be in some trouble as soon as he went down. The Scot has had terrible luck with injuries, let’s hope this isn’t a serious one.

Both teams made a fair few substitutions which gave us a bit of a muddle for 10 minutes or so. The try of the game came for Harlequins, a great effort from Nick David who ran a good 30 metres, the conversion was good and we had a 7 point gap with 6 minutes remaining. It felt all very deja vu, but from the perspective of this Saracens fan I’m happy to report that the defence stood tall , in particular Elliot Obatoyinbo, who put in a try saving tackle, having made a couple of errors that contributed to an earlier try. Phew! Saracens brought the win home. The final score was Saracens 28 Harlequins 21.

Action photos from the game

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