A grotty Sunday afternoon saw Harlequins visiting the Stonex Stadium, Saracens had an away Premiership win under their belt when they beat the current Champions at the Stoop and a home win in the Premiership Rugby Cup, could they make it a trio? I was happy to see just the one captain this week, with that being Mako Vunipola. Jack Walker the Harlequins Hooker had the captaincy for Quins.
I’m going to wax lyrical about Danny Care before I go into match mode, he’s still one of the best 9’s in Premiership Rugby, the sort of 9 who really gets on your wick when he’s playing against your team, but one you can’t help but admire. Comparison wise with Ivan van Zyl, the Saracens 9 he made 94 passes, double the number made by van Zyl, he had a very busy day, you could however be forgiven if you’d thought he was the captain, he was his usual chatty self. He scored a try for Quins and after Saracens second try he kicked off when no one else, seemingly, was ready to go, that gave Quins great territory, which ultimately came to nothing, but his thought processes are as speedy as ever.
The first scrum of the match saw a dominant Saracens display, watching back on BT Sport who had the wonderful Benjamin Kayser, former French Hooker, on the commentary team, he pinpointed the battle between Mako Vunipola and South African Prop Wilco Louw as a key match up, the Quins prop didn’t fare too well and was substituted after just 28 minutes. Saracens kicked to touch and drove from the line-out. Tom Woolstencroft was helped by a couple of backs joining the maul and he flew through the middle to score, there were just 6 minutes on the clock. The conversion went wide.
Saracens had a good opportunity a couple of minutes later when Dom Morris broke through, he delayed the pass to Sean Maitland who would’ve been in and the opportunity was missed on the right wing, in the same phase of play a second opportunity was butchered on the left wing.
Quins won a free kick from the next scrum as Vincent Koch engaged too soon, van Zyl looked to have found a gap as he sprinted away from a ruck, he was deemed to have crossed with, I don’t know who, Kayser felt it wasn’t a clear crossing, but hey ho, Sir thought so. Andre Esterhuizen took a kick at goal from within the Quins half, it has to be said, it went nowhere near, a strange decision.
Qiuins were awarded a penalty after Morris took Luke Wallace out from the breakdown, taking him way past the ruck; Danny Care did Danny Care things after Quins had driven towards the line, he jinked one way then the next and went between 2 defenders to score. Tomaso Allen had the ball fall off the kicking tee, he thought quickly and picked the ball up to drop a kick through the posts. Quins had a 2 point lead after 18 minutes,
A third penalty against Quins in the scrum saw a line-out close to the Quins line, Saracens drive didn’t take them to the line, but the ball was moved out after a few drives from the Saracens forwards, Manu Vunipola passed to Alex Goode who made a perfect pass to Sean Maitland, who got his try this time. Another kick from the side line went wide.
This was the point that Care took the quick kick, it was so quick the TV cameras missed it too, Quins knocked on in the line-out, Saracens cleared their lines from the resulting scrum. A Care ‘oops’ happened a couple of minutes alter as he kicked the ball straight into touch. A slight concern on the Quins ball carriers in the lead up to that kick, 2 of them went down with their head and neck really exposed to the tackler, a worry in this physical game.
With both my eyes open, Saracens got away with what looked like a blatant knock on by Rotimi Segun, that was forgotten by the home fans when Quins too had a dodgy call when the ball looked to have gone forwards later in the game. With those same eyes I’d say Billy Vunipola was lucky to get away with a no wrap challenge on Esterhuizen, in the same Quins move Maitland put in an excellent challenge on Tyrone Green, taking him, if not the ball into touch. The ball was knocked on, another scrum, another Saracens penalty.
A horror box kick that ended behind van Zyl was well collected by Hugh Tizzard, further down the line Quins were awarded a penalty close to the Saracens line, Care thought he’d go for the line again, being nowhere near the mark meant he was pulled back, Allen took the kick at goal this time and that evened the score at 10 apiece into half-time.
The weather had really deteriorated during the first half and it didn’t let up in the second, we were never going to be in for an attacking masterclass. The Quins Substitute Viliami Taulani came on early in the second half, with a hairstyle that meant he was very easy to spot when he was in the wrong spot on the ground. Saracens took the lead with a Lozowski penalty after 49 minutes.
Louis Lynagh back from the England camp came on for Quins after 49 minutes but wasn’t able to light up the game. Hew did however have a couple of key interventions in defence. On the whole 2 key players for Quins, Esterhuizen and Fullback Tyrone Green, were kept very quiet by Saracens, that takes away a lot of options for the Champions.
Manu Vunipola missed touch twice in succession after penalties were awarded for his team, one is forgivable, 2 not so much. The man with the noticeable hair gave away another penalty in a kickable position. A mention for Kelly Brown here, he spoke to BT as the penalty was taken, quite remarkable that a man who’s had a stammer all of his life can do so with little difficulty. Saracens had a 6 point lead with that successful kick.
Anyone who’s watched Quins this season knows that’s not a gap that guarantees a win, they love to come back from behind. On this occasion they weren’t able to find any magic and a third penalty for Lozowski in the 79th minute, awarded from the scrum of course, took the losing bonus point away from them too. The game finished on Saracens 19 Harlequins 10, by no means a classic but another W for the North London team against their West London rivals. This was an ugly win, but 4 points all the same.
Having been at a rugby league match on Saturday where a few fans from the away side really let their club down, it was very disappointing to see this tweet from the official Quins Twitter account, I was clearly in the ground and I heard fans supporting their team, no fake noise from speakers, not a good look from the club account.
Mako Vunipola was the deserved Man of the Match, he played 76 minutes and was instrumental in the 7 scrums won by his team. He seems to be getting better every week, this was his 100th Premiership start too!
A final word for Jackson Wray, it was so good to see him back in action after fracturing his skull, a crowd favourite he got a great welcome.