WATCHING TWO of London's finest is like taking a trip down memory lane. The forthcoming World Cup holds no interest for players like Will Carling, the captain of Harlequins or Francois Pienaar, the captain of Saracens, other than in the role of media pundits. They've been there and they've got the books to prove it.
Four years ago, of course, Pienaar took possession of the Webb Ellis Trophy before 75,000 people at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, the gold at the end of the rainbow nation. Yesterday he suffered the indignity of seeing his side outplayed by Quins.
Pienaar was undone here by an Aucklander to boot, Zinzan Brooke, who scored one of the odder tries of this or any other season. Both clubs had made a wretched start to the season, Saracens losing at home to London Irish, Quins at home to Bath. John Gallagher, the Quins director of rugby, described that 30-10 defeat as a "non-performance." Gallagher, a Londoner who played full-back for New Zealand when the All Blacks won the first World Cup in 1987, has a theory that Quins only perform when they're staring into the abyss.
Yesterday they were immeasurably more purposeful and skilful, scoring five tries in the process.
Even so, it prompts the question: what on earth has happened to Saracens? They used to shop at Harrods; their close- season signings, including Thierry Lacroix from Quins, suggest they are recruiting from the bargain basement.
Despite being gifted an early lead, Saracens squandered possession at will while their defence at times was non-existent. It looked like vintage Quins in the ninth minute when Peter Richards's attempted clearance was charged down by Ben Cole and Tony Diprose capitalised by going over at the posts.
One player who made a significant difference to the Quins was the former Sale flanker Pat Sanderson. After Nick Greenstock had made a powerful inside break, Sanderson was in support to crash over.
With the score 7-7 and mistakes aplenty, Brooke provided the cameo of the match in the 27th minute. Loitering on the left wing, more to get a breather than with any serious intent, the former All Black warrior took a desperate pass from Richards, cut inside, sold half a dummy in slow motion and set off at what looked like little more than a trot. The Saracens defence parted like the Red Sea and Brooke strolled down the middle before diving over beneath the posts. Surreal.
The example this set to Quins and the confidence it instilled was invaluable. On the stroke of half-time Sanderson embarked on a similar journey through the Saracens midfield. When he chipped ahead, Ben Johnston kicked the ball dead and from the scrum five Brooke worked Rory Jenkins over. Rob Liley's third conversion gave Quins a lead of 21-7 at the interval.
The Saracens defence continued to look vulnerable and Jason Keyter, who is proving a sound finisher, took full advantage. Taking possession on the right wing, 25 yards from the Saracens line and with hardly any room to manoeuvre, he jinked inside and left Nick Walshe (another ex-Quin), Darragh O'Mahony and Mark Mapletoft for dead.
Although Saracens scored a couple of late tries through Matt Powell and Adam Jones, a second try from Sanderson was sandwiched in between to prevent any hopes of Pienaar's men making a serious comeback. It was, as Gallagher might have put it, a non-performance.
Harlequins: D O'Leary; J Keyter, N Greenstock, W Carling (capt), B Daniel; R Liley (C Wright, 73), P Richards; D Barnes, C Ridgway, R Nebbett (K Nepia, 58), S White-Cooper, G Morgan (T Collier, 73), R Jenkins, Z Brooke (C Sheasby, 69), P Sanderson.
Saracens: M Mapletoft; R Constable, J Thomson (B Johnston, 22, R Thirlby, 61), K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; T Lacroix, N Walshe (N Powell, 68); D Flatman, G Chuter, J White, B Davison, K Chesney (A Jones, 56), B Cole, (P Ogilvie, 68) T Diprose, F Pienaar (capt).
Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).Reuse content