In the increasingly intense six-into-four fight for a Premiership play-off place, Harlequins consolidated their position with a win courtesy of a decisive try by Danny Care, a week after the scrum-half's sin bin misery with England. The battle facing Saracens, stuck below the mid-point of the table and mired in unfavourable reporting of their future under South African owners, is for less tangible stuff like heart and soul.
Given that Saracens are, in essence, a brand with a star and crescent, a few thousand supporters and a shaky balance sheet, they are ripe for change. The recently appointed chief executive Edward Griffiths has proposed the club as "a safe haven for South African players seeking an opportunity in Europe", and they have searched left, right and centre for a new home in the capital; the latest gossip is of another five years in Watford, with the occasional big match at Wembley.
Harlequins, whose London patch Saracens share, had more than their two rands' worth to say. Mark Evans, the Quins chief executive who had 20 years at Saracens, used his programme notes to question every aspect of the plans. Dean Richards, Quins' director of rugby, said: "Ruining a club like Saracens and turning it into a South African franchise...should be stopped. How can you have a South African side in an English league?"
Saracens met their new sugar daddy when they toured South Africa in January and were hosted to a 'braai' by the multi-millionaire Johann Rupert - kingpin of the investment company which has a 50 per cent stake in the club - at his Cape Town mansion, described by one player as "like Southfork in [the TV series] Dallas". Since then more than a dozen players have been asked to leave in the summer, though, again, there is uncertainty and talk of some back-tracking. One problem could be that severance pay must be factored into the salary cap.
The arguments are clearly a matter of degree. We were in the presence of two prominent Australians - Saracens' head coach, Eddie Jones, who is making way for Brendan Venter, and the England attack coach, Brian Smith, who may have had an eye on Quins' wings Ugo Monye and Dave Strettle, following Paul Sackey's injury in Ireland last weekend.
Richards was critical of the referee Andrew Small allowing defenders more leeway than attackers at the tackle. The only South African in Saracens' starting XV - he was the skipper too with the co-club captains Steve Borthwick and Andrew Farrell rested - was Wikus van Heerden and he scored his side's opening try after 25 minutes. Clever lines of running enabled the impressive full-back Alex Goode to send Noah Cato into the Quins 22, scrum-half Justin Marshall tapped a penalty and Van Heerden forced over. Glen Jackson, who had missed one, kicked one with earlier penalties, converted for a 10-3 lead.
Nick Evans had kicked a 12th minute penalty for Quins, who never go too long without a purple patch. Sure enough, a penalty by Evans after 29 minutes was soon followed by a try featuring a charge from Gary Botha - a Springbok? Surely he was in the wrong shirt? - and an offload for prop Ceri Jones to blast pass Goode, with Evans converting.
Evans' third penalty for Saracens backchat six minutes into the second half made it 16-10 then there was a great break from his own half by Ben Skirving - 11 years a loyal Saracen, man and boy, but not for much longer as he and half of yesterday's pack are among those shown the door. also of some back-tracking over the dismissals given that severance pay must be factored into the salary cap Saracens' wing Richard Haughton ran in a try after 55 minutes to cut Quins' lead, then Monye went off suffering from cramp. Care, keen to impress and tussling hard with the experienced Marshall, had the last laugh with a sharp dart on the short side of a ruck and a swallow dive with 12 minutes remaining.
Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall, U Monye (T Williams, 63); N Evans, D Care; C Jones, G Botha, M Ross, O Kohn (J Evans, 59), G Robson, C Robshaw, T Guest, W Skinner (capt).
Saracens: A Goode; R Haughton, K Ratuvou, A Powell (B Barritt, 73), N Cato (R Penney, 37); G Jackson, J Marshall; M Aguero, M Cairns (A Kyriacou, 40), T Mercey (C Visagie, 40), C Jack, H Vyvyan (T Ryder, 50), W van Heerden (capt), B Skirving (D Barrell, 66), D Seymour.
Referee: A Small (London).Reuse content