Match 1 of the new Premiership season for Saracens, after they had a bye in week 1, saw them heading to the Stoop, a tough first fixture for Lock Hugh Tizard who’d moved to North London at the end of the season from Harlequins. I can only imagine his mixed emotions! It took me a 2 hour drive to get to Twickenham, where I had a lovely lunch courtesy of friends Nick and Gill, avid Quins fans, my good Quins friends Sue & Henry were there too. It was a delight, and as the only Saracens fan there I only took a bit of stick! The question on why Saracens had all of their England contingent playing, but Quins were denied Marcus Smith; was of course raised. Unlike cricket, my summer choice of sport, England players aren’t centrally contracted, but Quins were still denied their young playmaker. That, must have been galling for Quins management and fans alike. However I’d say Tommaso Allen, the Italy Fly Half wasn’t a bad stand in.
The boo’s as Saracens came onto the pitch were a shame to hear, and I found myself having to tell a lad who was sat a couple of rows behind me how unpleasant he was by the end of the match. I wonder if he’s as nasty as he was throughout the game when those same Saracens player have England shirts on? He was the exception, I sat next to a lovely Quins Supporting couple.
For all of their star studded line up things didn’t quite go according to plan for the visitors, as Quins took a 17 point lead! A familiar patter emerging, has just been mentioned by Lawrence Dallaglio as I watch the re-run, I wonder how quickly I’ll get fed up with his commentary!
n early penalty against Saracens saw a superb kick to touch by Allen, Quins were awarded another penalty as they attacked from the line out, but that wasn’t needed as the ball was thrown out to Caden Murley by the brilliant Tyrone Green, a try scored due to his strength as much as his speed that time round. The kick was on the side line and sailed over from the boot of Tommaso Allen, that was 7 of the 17. with only 4 minutes on the clock.
An intercept by Luke Northmore looked like a 2nd try was on its way, but the whistle had been blown much to the disappointment of the home fans, relief of course for us Saracens.
Caden Murley’s 2nd try was all about his speed, I did sometimes find it hard not to cheer an exciting half the length of the pitch run, even when it’s against my team. Alex Dombrandt had literally taken the ball from Ivan van Zyl. Another good conversion and that was 14 nil. It’s good to hear Ugo Monye reminding us that this was literally the first 10 minutes of the season for Saracens and it showed! Quins had played and beaten Newcastle away in their week 1.
This was Harlequins at their running best, they had another promising attacked foiled by the touch line, but went back for an earlier penalty, a 45 plus metre effort it sailed over the posts. There we had the 17 points with 15 minutes on the clock! Bit of a disaster! It seemed to me that Saracens had been trying to force things to no avail in those first 15.
They found their mojo with 20 minutes on the clock as they worked the ball up the pitch, Elliot Daly took the ball on the wing and went over close to the posts too score. Owen Farrell’s kick went to the right of the posts, but Saracens had points on the board.
Joe Marler enjoyed a pass that didn’t go to Alex Lewington’s hands, but sailed into touch, always the wind up merchant. I didn’t appreciate his words before the semi-final last season, but he is a player I like watching, it was particularly lovely seeing him greet 3 of his 4 children as the game started, he brings colour to the game.
I doubt Joe was laughing a few minutes later when Saracens stormed down the pitch through Ben Earl after a Saracens line out, a lovely tip on from Alex Lozowski to Alex Lewington saw the ball go out to Daley who had Max Malins outside him, Malins started off his Prep scoring for this season. The conversion was good and the gap was cut down to 5. The Saracens backs were starting to ‘click’.
A line-out penalty awarded against Saracens put Harlequins in a great position after another excellent kick from Allen, but the Saracens forwards won possession back and tried to run the ball out from their own line after the scrum; that, didn’t work out too well, the ball was sl[pilled and Owen Farrell in effect tapped the ball upon and into Dombrandt’s hands, he passed out to Joe Marchant for what may be his easiest try this season. Another great kick from the touch line and Quins had 24 points and a 12 point lead.
Notably the Quins captain left the pitch with only 36 minutes on the clock, a big blow for the home team, listening to the commentary it seems they took a risk including him.
A dropped ball by Alex Lewington put paid to a good Saracens attack as half-time approached; the teams went in with those 12 points between them.
What was clear as the 2nd half started is that the commentators had enjoyed the first half, I do hope their attitude stays that way throughout, I haven’t felt the need to put Lawrence Dallaglio 3 minutes into the 2nd half.
It looks like Ben Earl is starting as he means to carry on, he’s one off those fords who could apply slot into the Centres, and he’s just operated, very well, at scrum half! Max Malins benefited from an error by Quins after the ball was spilled, he received the ball out on the wing to score his 2nd try. There were many boos to be heard on the TV coverage, I can’t see why, and can’t recall any controversy! Naturally there were then cheers as Farrell missed the kick.
Mako Vunipola and Jamie George joined the game on 47 minutes, Mako interchanged with his ‘little’ bro Billy early in the half, Billy then made a brilliant offload to Malins, Lewington would have been in had he been able to take the pass out on the wing.
Billy Vunipola really came into the game in the 2nd half, making a great break at speed. He is looking like he had a good summer and a Billy who’s eaten well isn’t always at his best, however he certainly showed his value in the 2nd half in particular.
A successful penalty had closed the gap to 4 and one of those carried by Billy V saw the ball go out to Nick Tompkins via Farrell, Tompkins scored Saracens bonus point try and took the lead for the first time in the match.
The Saracens starting Fly Half van Zyl had been replaced by Aled Davies on 53 minutes, sadly he only lasted for 8 minutes after taking a blow to the head. That led to a good attacking phase for Quins. And a failure to roll away by Billy V saw a penalty awarded to Quins to even the scores up on 27 apiece.
However Saracens took the lead back with 66 minutes on the clock with a long range penalty from Daly. Quins then won a penalty from a scrum and Allen put in another wonderful kick to put his team in a strong attacking position. Quins messed up as they went down with the ball and Saracens were awarded a penalty, a key moment in the game.
Quins made a mistake clearing the ball from their own half, the referee could clearly be heard telling them they’d taken the ball back into their 22 as the ball was in effect kicked straight out. Saracens didn’t benefit but they were in the right part of the pitch with less than 5 minutes on the clock. However Toward crossing in front of Itoje gave Quins another chance. Jackson Wray made a key intervention as he won the ball back on halfway, the resulting penalty was kicked to touch by Farrell, but Quins then won a penalty! Talk about backwards and forwards!
With less than 2 minutes on the clock Quins had another chance, the clock went into the red and Quins won another penalty, nail biting with 3 points between the teams! Mark Itoje pounced on the ball as it spun away from the line out and the ball was kicked out for a Saracens win! With the final score Harlequins 27 Saracens 30. oth teams had very good moments in the game, I’m sure both will have a good season and am looking forward to the re-match at the Spurs Stadium later in the season.
A word for Theo McFarland, along with several players he was immense, his ability to take the ball in the line out with one hand as well as his offloading abilities is going to be a huge factor for Saracens this season.
There were some key stats that tell the story of Saracens comeback –
- Clean Breaks – Harlequins 6 – Saracens 17
- Defenders Beaten – Harlequins 13 – Saracens 22
- Off loads – Harlequins 1 – Saracens 21