Rugby Union: Effort cannot hide Quins' essential shortcomings

Saracens 25 Harlequins 16
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The Independent Online
David Llewellyn

Saracens 25 Harlequins 16

The impression was that Harlequins arrived in Watford yesterday with a gun to the head following a couple of defeats and some poor performances in their last three Allied Dunbar Premiership matches, including a shocker at home to Bristol.

All that can be said of their defeat by Saracens was that had Quins come out with both barrels blazing they could have won it. They showed more enterprise out wide and matched the home side's commitment up front. As usual though their play was littered with errors; knock-ons, turnovers and loss of ball.

Even so, when the wing Dan Luger, on his 22nd birthday, was fired upfield from a range of 70 metres to score a fine try shortly after the interval, the scattered Harlequins following among the vociferous 10,753 crowd must have thought that there was life after Will Carling. Thierry Lacroix's conversion had them a comfortable score in front.

It must have been an uplifting moment for Luger in only his third match back following a 10-month lay-off after a cruciate ligament injury. In fact, it lifted the whole match, which until then had been a tedious affair, with progress made via a succession of penalty kicks. If Lacroix was not thumping the ball over, then the old master Michael Lynagh was doing it for Saracens. It was three kicks each at half-time and a host of Harlequin mistakes.

While Lynagh's metronome of a boot kept Saracens within sight of their opponents, it was some time before they got their try. Quins' resolute defence finally conceded it in the 66th minute after prolonged pressure, and it was a penalty try. When the third of three scrums near the Quins' line collapsed, the referee, Brian Campsall, made the award, Lynagh lobbed over the conversion and Saracens were back in front.

Harlequins headed back upfield but lost an opportunity 10 metres from the Sarries' line when a penalty awarded to them was reversed because Campsall had spotted the lock Gareth Llewellyn employing some unfancy footwork on a prone Saracen. Lynagh had the final say with his sixth penalty kick. Quins were out of it, but at least they looked as if they wanted to compete.

Saracens: Try Penalty try; Conversion Lynagh; Penalties Lynagh 6. Harlequins: Try Luger; Conversion Lacroix; Penalties Lacroix 3.

Saracens: D Thompson; R Wallace, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, B Daniel; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau (A Olver, 70), G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, A Bennett, F Pienaar, T Diprose (capt).

Harlequins: S Stewart; J Keyter, T Tollett, J Ngauamo, D Luger; T Lacroix, H Harries; R Nebbett, K Wood (capt), A Yates, G Llewellyn, R Strudwick (T Billups, 67), R Jenkins, L Cabannes (A Leach, 50), B Davison.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).