What could be better than a sunny day, A Premiership Semi-Final and a local derby at that! It was definitely cricket weather for this match up. Quins fans travelled across London in numbers, it was great to catch up with some of my avid Quins fan friends. Harlequins had proved the naysayers wrong and backed up their Premiership Final win last year with a solid 3rd finish. They won 15 of the 24 matches won, Saracens won 17 from 24. Both teams lost last week, Saracens at Gloucester with a much changed team and Quins away to Exeter.

The build up hadn’t been the most pleasant, with Joe Marler in particular coming out with some unpleasant and disappointing stuff. A bit crazy when we consider how many of his England team mates of many years he’d be facing. With work and cricket I’d managed to swerve any of the unpleasantness on Twitter etc, sadly I have no doubt it’ll carry on bearing in mind the eventual result of this game.

A quick rant/moan before I start with the match, rugby union is an 80 minute game, this was a semi-final, the culmination of a brilliant season for one if these teams, yet numerous people would rather stand in a queue for beer or similar than watch the match. I except that I don’t drink, but, really? One lady near me left half way through the second half to but an ice cream! I’m not prepared to miss one second of any game, let alone this one!

We had a sad and touching minute’s applause in memory of Tiffany Youngs who lost her long battle with cancer last week. That really puts a rugby match into persepective.

The match started in an ill tempered way, with the forwards facing up to each other within 2 minutes. Quins scored their first try a rolling maul from the line out after a couple of penalties went their way, Alex Dombrandt was the man in possession, he broke away from the maul to go over the line. Marcus Smith sent the ball wide of the posts but Quins had a 5 point lead with 3 minutes on the clock.

Quins rumbling to the line
Alex Dombrandt goes over for the first try
Marcus Smith on kicking duty

Saracens went on the attack after a fairly even exchange; several forwards had a play for the line before Owen Farrell sent a ball out wide to Sean Maitland, the ball sailed into touch but Saracens had a penalty up their sleeves. Farrell duly converted cutting the deficit to 2 with 8 minutes on the clock.

Harlequins were the next to score, a great piece of work between Smith and Danny Care, saw Smith weave his way through a couple of Saracens grasping hands, Care, who for me remains the best England qualified 9 in the Premiership, was on his shoulder and he scored a great try! Smith converted this one and the score was Saracens 3 Quins 12 after 19 minutes.

Danny Care scores Quins 2nd try

Saracens next attack on 22 minutes saw Ben Earl elude a couple of tacklers, leaving them on the floor, before heading past another to score Saracens’ first try. Farrell missed a conversion, it was probably no coincidence that Smith had rushed towards the ball as he was lining it up. The score was Saracens 8 Quins 12

There was a bit of a shermozzle (as they say in rugby league) which ended up with Joe Marchant going over the line for Quins, There’s been a couple of potential knock ons, but more importantly a high tackle on Owen Farrell that saw Jack Walker shown a yellow card. It took an age to reach the decision but it was the right one. The ‘try; was wiped off for the forward pass. I do think when a player is ‘hit’ by a high shot, they should automatically be sent for an HIA.

Owen Farrell was in the wars

Saracens kicked to touch from the resulting penalty, and the forwards pounded the Quins line again. Re-watching on the TV Nick Tompkins was frustrated that the ball eluded him at one point to get to Farrell, however Farrell put a short pass back to Tompkins who ran the try in. The conversion was good and Saracens went in at half-time with a lead of 3.

A small point about Danny Care, I have no idea how he gets away with bothering the opposition 9 at scrum time and similarly no idea why no one does the same back to him. It’s very effective.

Quins scored a try in the first 3 minutes of the first half, Saracens scored in the first 4o seconds of the second. Dombrandt had knocked on from the kick off and Saracens made the most of it. As the ball whipped across the line Alex Goode through a great pass to that man Earl, who showed his speed to score a ‘backs style’ try. That extended Saracens lead to 10 with the added 2. You can really never have a big enough lead against this Quins team, they’ve been in far worse positions this season and come back to win.

That lead was extended after a lovely pass from Farrell to the departing Vincent de Koch, who also thought he was a back, he burst through and put a lovely pass in to Aled Davies who ran in to score Saracens 4th try! The conversion hit the post but the score was Saracens 27 Quins 12 after 52 minutes.

Play was pulled back after another spot of pushing and shoving after Care knocked the ball into touch. The TMO has spotted a high hit by Elliot Daly on Marcus Smith, it was high, but Smith was falling, hence only a yellow.

Owen Farrell marshalling the Saracens defence

Saracens gave away a penalty from the line out. And as the whistle was blown we had a couple of blow ups. It seemed clear at the game and now looks very clear on the TV, that Matt Symons threw a couple of punches at Farrell. Having told Quins they’d had their one attempt at ‘handbags’ it felt then and feels wrong after the fact that Symons didn’t have a 10 minute rest. Instead a scrum to Saracens and another instance of Care shoving Davies away from the scrum. (How does he get away with it?)

With 3.5 minutes of Daly’s card remaining play was pulled back to a challenge from Billy Vunipola on Andre Esterhuizen, it was another high tackle and another yellow card for Saracens. That one wasn’t as obvious as the previous 2. Saracens would play 3.5 minutes with 13 men.

Billy Vunipola not getting it quite right

Nick Isiekwe had his 2nd line out steal of the game from the resulting line out, but Quins were still back and on the attack. A scrum without Vunipola was dominated by Quins and the ball was fired out to Cadan Murley on the wing, he ran over the line and closer to the posts before he touched down. Smith missed the conversion i spite of that. With 13 minutes remaining the score was Saracens 27 Quins 17

Try scorer Cadan Murley

A mammoth effort by Isiekwe saw Quins held up over the line, he’s another who’s gone from strength to strength this season. It was good to hear ex Quin Ugo Monye praising his efforts. I do find him to be a fair and unbiased commentator.

Saracens defence holding firm

Having had 2 yellows Saracens saw a 3rd as Alex Lozowski clashed heads with Joe Marchant, that meant he had a whole 5 minutes on the pitch. The card was down to the TMO, the ref had been happy with a penalty. Happily for Saracens Vunipola returned moments later.

`Saracens won a huge turnover with 5 minutes remaining, Symons was at the centre of the ensuing aggro, then again after Saracens were awarded a penalty in the Scrum for Saracens. I note that the ref ‘tackled’ Nick Tompkins off the ball as Saracens went on the attack with 3 minutes remaining. A sequence of actual penalties saw Farrell kick to touch close to the Quins line, who else but Ben Earl to score his hat-trick try! A rolling maul style try it was his easiest of the afternoon. Farrell added the extras and the game was done. The final score Saracens 34. Harlequins 17!

Ben Earl was awarded the Player of the Match accolade, but it could have gone to a number of players, Owen Farrell put in a huge shift in particular! And Maro Itoje? He could be Man of the Match pretty much every week. Nick Tompkins punced above his weight as always, it’s notable that in both this and the league match at the Stoop Esterhuizen had a cert quiet game. I could go on, this was an overall great team performance, they go again next Saturday!

Ben Earl – Man of the Match

6 Comments »

  1. I always enjoy your post match commentary. You captured the fantastic atmosphere at Stone X and illustrated the furious pace of play that we were treated to on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

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  2. Really good description of the game and even though I like a couple of pints myself I NEVER miss any of the action unlike a lot of Quins fans near us that were up and down fetching beer in the first half..So annoying to us that we stood up by the 10m line in the 2nd half. Also like you I found it annoying that Danny Care was allowed to legally? dominate Aled Davies at scrum time. Love the pics as always!!!

    Like

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