Quins incur handling charge

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Harlequins 23 Saracens 15

Jack Rowell would have gone to West London full of optimism. He was going to watch the Harlequins players, Rory Jenkins and David Pears, whom the England manager holds in high esteem. Harlequins were unbeaten and there were a few Saracens with a point or two prove.

But it turned into a dog day afternoon. The match, which only flickered into fitful life in the last quarter, did little to inspire. Jenkins put in some tremendous tackles but few bursts through the middle. Rowell, though, will not be judging him on one performance. Pears (13 points in all) fluffed some kicks, was laid out towards the end - everyone thought his injury jinx had struck again, fortunately it had not - and had a frustrating time as attempts to launch his backs resulted in a spilled ball or a wrong turn by the recipient.

After the match there was worse. The prop Jason Leonard, Harlequins' non-playing captain, reported to Rowell that he was still not ready to return after tearing a shoulder muscle before the start of the season. Leonard, who has never missed an England match through injury, is sure he will make it in time to greet South Africa at Twickenham on 18 November.

Rowell is not so sure. "The clock is running down on his chances," he said. Leonard, though, insists he will be back in time for Harlequins' crucial League match against Bath at The Stoop in a fortnight. They need him badly, before then if possible, since next week they have to go to Sale.

The forwards seemed to be doing barely enough - and at times not as much as that - to contain the eager, though more naive, Saracen marauders. In fact, Rowell's eye was caught by Saracens' back-row boys, the mobile Anthony Diprose and the outstanding Richard Hill. "We need movers and shakers like those two to put pressure on the established players," Rowell said.

Harlequins were certainly shaken, but their fans were barely moved as they twice fell behind. Each time, though, they revealed the resolve that has helped them match Bath win for win at the top of the First Division. Daren O'Leary's last-gasp try and Pears' even later drop goal flattered Quins. They have retained their grip on their title challenge - they need to do the same with the ball.

Harlequins: Tries Allison, O'Leary; Conversions Pears 2; Penalties Pears 2; Drop Goal Pears. Saracens: Tries Gregory, Lee; Conversion Lee; Penalty Lee.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, P Mensah, W Greenwood, S Bromley; D Pears, R Kitchin (capt); S Brown, B Moore, A Mullins, A Snow, M Watson, G Allison, R Jenkins, C Sheasby.

Saracens: A Tunningley; M Gregory, D Dooley (T Ellis, 64), S Ravenscroft, P Harries; A Lee, B Davies (capt) (D Phillips, 80); R Andrews, C Olney, G Holmes, M Langley, M Burrow, J Green, R Hill, A Diprose.

Referee: A Lewis (Dublin).