Harlequins vs Saracens match report: Chris Ashton and Charlie Hodgson make a mess of Quins

There was a sense of shock at the Stoop as Saracens dished out painful lessons

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Premiership prides itself on the cut-throat quality of its action, routinely producing statistics in support of its self-proclaimed status as the most competitive club league in world rugby. Imagine, then, the sense of shock at the Twickenham Stoop last night as Saracens made an unholy mess of Harlequins, dishing out painful lessons across the union curriculum, from cohesive defence to hard-headed game management via everything in between.

Not only did last season’s beaten finalists win by a distance, they even managed to prevail in the quarter of the game they were forced to play with 14 men. By the time Chris Ashton scored their second try, following up an opportunistic kick from the deeply impressive outside centre Duncan Taylor on 69 minutes, and Will Fraser claimed a third from a rolling maul, they were over the hills and far away. It could hardly have been more one-sided.

Those viewing the early-season Premiership fare through the prism of England selection were climbing over each other to watch Chris Robshaw, the red-rose captain, mix it with Fraser, who would almost certainly have been capped by now but for his insistence on crocking himself at the wrong moments. It is far from impossible that these two will be playing World Cup rugby this time next year, especially as the exiled Steffon Armitage has appeared in a French national training squad and appears hell-bent on switching allegiance, so the contest was not short of significance, but was overshadowed by the front row rather than the  back row.

Harlequins had some sharp things to say about their rivals from north of the river before the game, with the England full-back Mike Brown particularly talkative. Sometimes, people speak too soon. Saracens, suitably indignant, were full of aggressive intent from the start and spent much of the first half taking their hosts to the cleaners at the set-piece: no mean achievement, given that all three of their leading props – Mako Vunipola, James Johnston and Juan Figallo – were hors de combat.

 

It may well have been that Quins expected the boot to be on the other foot: after all, they had Joe Marler, the current England loose head, and Kyle Sinckler, a fiery Test tight head in waiting, at the sharp end. But they finished a distant second, with the unheralded Richard Barrington thriving at Sinckler’s expense. Saracens even won a scrum penalty against the Quins put-in, after Brown forced Taylor into a fumble in the act of scoring. A smack in the teeth? You could say.

Add to this the intelligent contributions of Charlie Hodgson at outside-half and Alex Goode at full-back and there could be no denying that Sarries were good value for their 16-0 interval lead. Hodgson claimed the only try of the half after charging down a tardy clearance from his opposite number Nick Evans and scuttling 40 metres. Goode’s slide-rule running lines and exquisitely timed distribution raised the level of proceedings.

There was barely a slowing of the Saracens momentum after the break, even when Hodgson was sent to the cooler for slapping down Danny Care’s pass to Jordan Turner-Hall. Fraser, busy around the breakdown and largely error-free (which was more than could be said for Robshaw), killed off a rare Quins attack by forcing an excellent turnover, following which Goode landed a right-sided penalty at the other end. There would be no way back from there for Quins.

Not that they gave up. When Saracens lost their captain, Alistair Hargreaves to the bin, they laid siege in search of a score. But the visitors’ “wolf pack defence” was at its most savage, with the  No 8 Billy Vunipola and the centre Brad Barritt red in tooth and claw. And sure enough, the scores that brought this phase of the game to its close were… another brace of penalties for Hodgson.

Scorers: Saracens – Tries Hodgson, Ashton, Fraser; Conversions Farrell 2, Hodgson; Penalties Hodgson 5, Goode.

Line-ups:

Harlequins: M Brown; M Yarde, M Hopper (C Walker 16, J Clifford 49), J Turner-Hall, O Lindsay-Hague; N Evans (B Botica h-t), D Care (K Dickson 62); J Marler (capt), J Gray (R Buchanan 58), K Sinckler (W Collier 58), C Matthews (G Merrick 60), G Robson, L Wallace (Gray 63-73), C Robshaw, N Easter.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor, B Barritt, D Strettle (C Wyles 62); C Hodgson (O Farrell 65), R Wigglesworth (B Spencer 70); R Barrington (R Gill 49), J George (S Spurling 70), K Longbottom (P Du Plessis 52), G Kruis, A Hargreaves (capt, M Botha 65), J Wray (K Brown 49), W Fraser, B Vunipola.

Referee: W Barnes (London).

Comments