Borthwick rib injury a worry for England as Sarries go top

Harlequins 9 Saracens 22
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The Independent Online

These are worrying times for Harlequins, who have lost their first three Premiership matches, and for the England manager, Martin Johnson.

Steve Borthwick, Johnson's captain, left the field with a rib injury that had Saracens' director or rugby, Brendan Venter, "a little bit worried". With England's first autumn Test, against Australia, coming on 7 November, it is fair to say Johnson will share Venter's anxiety. The lock forward will have a scan today.

Johnson will also be keen for a fitness update from Quins on Jordan Turner-Hall. The centre, who has been touted as a potential replacement for the injured Riki Flutey, struggled off in the 71st minute, holding his shoulder. He looked in more pain than Borthwick.

Quins' head coach, John Kingston, did not want to comment on Turner-Hall's complaint but it is not a good state of affairs for Johnson, with a host of backs – Delon Armitage, Toby Flood and Dan Hipkiss among them – currently out.

This was another dismal day for Harlequins. The spectre of Bloodgate may no longer be hanging over them but their situation on the pitch is worrying. There has not been a hint of a try from two home games and they are bottom of the table. Here, their pack ended up being bullied and their talented set of backs started to panic with the ball in hand. "It's not a great start," said Kingston. "We need to get back on the horse."

It was a typical performance from Saracens – opportunistic, nuggety and rather uninspiring – and they suffocated Quins, who offered a sprightly start but little else. Derick Hougaard kicked 17 points on his starting debut, with Kameli Ratuvou scoring the match's only try with 55 minutes on the clock. That put Saracens 16-9 up and, having been under the cosh for much of the first half, they never looked back. Their three wins on the bounce have put them on top of the League.

"This is the standard if we want to have a good season," Venter said. "Our defence was superb. For all the rugby they played, they did not create clear-cut chances that they butchered."

After successful jaunts to Twickenham and Wembley on the first two weekends of the season, Saracens found themselves in more modest surrounds, but their game-plan did not alter. They were again content to adopt a rather depressing kick-and-chase game and Quins were left to do all the running in still conditions. But after a sprightly opening to the match, in which David Strettle and Ugo Monye made a couple of breaks and Nick Evans kicked simple penalties in the 10th and 19th minutes, they found themselves trapped by Saracens' rugged but effective approach. By the end, Quins were being lambasted by their own supporters, for trying aimless up-and-unders.

Hougaard gradually asserted his authority for Saracens and they demonstrated the opportunistic edge that had served them so well in their wins over London Irish and Northampton. The South African fly-half dropped a 22nd-minute goal and then knocked over a penalty just before half-time, after Turner-Hall was penalised for holding on.

Saracens, no doubt delighted to go into the changing rooms with the scores level, seized the lead four minutes after the restart when the prop Carlos Nieto and flanker Andy Saull combined to send Ratuvou over on the right wing.

Evans continued his flawless place-kicking display in the 53rd minute but Hougaard restored Saracens' seven-point lead with a monstrous drop-goal. Sarries even controlled the match after Chris Wyles, their American wing, was sent to the sin-bin for tripping Strettle in the 60th minute. Quins got nowhere near their opponents' 22 in 10 mind-numbing minutes.

Hougaard completed the scoring when Quins dragged down a rolling maul that drained the life out of them. That offence led to a trip to the sin-bin for the lock Jim Evans.

Harlequins: U Monye; D Strettle (J Drauniniu, 63), T Masson (R Clegg, 58), J Turner-Hall (N McMillan, 71), G Lowe; N Evans, S So'oialo (G Williams, 69); C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 58), M Lambert (J Andress, 67; A Croall, 78), L Stevenson, J Evans, C Robshaw (T Guest, 64), N Easter, W Skinner (capt).

Saracens: A Goode; N Cato (R Haughton, 58); K Ratuvou, B Barritt, C Wyles; D Hougaard, N de Kock (J Marshall, 71); R Gill (T Mercey, 55), S Brits, C Nieto (R Skuse, 66), S Borthwick (capt; F Ongaro, 78), T Ryder (H Vyvyan, 29), M Owen (J Melck, 50), E Joubert, A Saull.

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).