Quins run ended by Farrell's fireworks

Harlequins 11 Saracens 19

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The Independent Online

When England's interim head coach Stuart Lancaster starts formulating his Six Nations Championship squad, some new faces from this record-breaking production's cast will surely be involved. Saracens centres Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt, plus flanker Andy Saull earned consideration, as did full-back Mike Brown, lock George Robson and flanker Chris Robshaw of Harlequins.

Whatever Lancaster decides by 11 January, a world-record crowd for a club league fixture of 82,000 was treated to a see-saw battle between the current Premiership leaders Harlequins, in their fourth "Big Game" at Twickenham, and reigning champions Saracens. In the end, the champions prevailed and Quins' unbeaten run in the league was brought to an end.

"I thought Andy Saull was absolutely magnificent and from an England perspective I thought a lot of our young, English players really made a good impression today," said Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby.

His Harlequins counterpart, Conor O'Shea, joined McCall in praising Farrell. "I am sure he will be a cornerstone for England for a long time," O'Shea said. "He's an outstanding player."

Having come a distant second during the opening 40 minutes when they trailed 19-6, Quins gave their huge support plenty to cheer after the interval. The erratic kicking from hand from temporary Saracens signing Peter Stringer of Munster did not help their cause. But when Harlequins did create sufficient pressure to rattle the Saracens rearguard, they failed to produce the crispness of pass so important at this level to buy precious split seconds. "To give a lead like that to the Premiership champions was going to be difficult to claw back," O'Shea added.

The teams represent all that is excellent about the English domestic game and you simply do not pack stadiums this way if that were not the case. Watch these two in action and you will have enough to discuss in the pub to last endless rounds, teams so different yet so very impressive.

The fireworks that greeted the teams were so exotic that the game kicked off in something resembling an old-fashioned London pea-souper. By the time it had cleared, the referee Wayne Barnes was already warning Saracens' captain, Steve Borthwick, to keep his opinions to himself.

Yet it was the visitors taking their game to Quins during the opening exchanges, and it was Farrell who switched on the scoreboard with a penalty after eight minutes, awarded for a high tackle. Three minutes later, he doubled the score with his second goal after a foul on Stringer, and when Danny Care was penalised for not releasing on 13 minutes – Farrell completed his hat-trick without fuss – some home supporters were wishing for the fireworks fog to return. Finally, the hosts broke out to launch a decent attack up the right, sparked by Nick Easter, and when Barnes decided it had been halted illegally, Nick Evans lifted the crowd with a penalty on 17 minutes.

But no sooner had their cheers faded than Quins kept up the spirit of Christmas with a gift-wrapped try two minutes later. Joe Marler fired out a hopeful pass to his left, aimed at Easter. But former Quin David Strettle intercepted, scooted away behind the posts for a try which afforded Farrell the easiest of conversions.

The young centre then sent chills through the vast crowd's majority with yet another effortless goal after 24 minutes when the unfortunate Marler stood up in the game's first scrum.

At this stage, the champions looked very much at home at HQ. The key lay in the superiority of the Saracens pack, powerful in the scrum and well-drilled by expert exponent Borthwick in the line-outs, where only one was wasted by an overthrow by hooker Schalk Brits.

There could be no faulting the league leaders, so proud of their record of 10 wins from 10 games going into this battle, and so exciting a team so far this season with their commitment to width and attacking ambition.

From the brink of total implosion, Quins battled back and worked their way into the Saracens 22 as the first-half clock ticked down. However, at this stage of the proceedings the team with most potent attack in the division discovered to their cost why Saracens are hailed as the meanest defence in town. For all their efforts they reaped only a further three points from former All Black Evans.

Johnson flies to scotland from Ospreys

Scott Johnson will leave Ospreys at the end of this season to join the Scotland coaching set-up, the Scottish Rugby Union has confirmed.

Ospreys had made the initial announcement that Johnson would depart his role as coaching director once his three-year contract expires. The former Wales coach will become senior assistant coach to Andy Robinson and will be on board in time for the June tour to Australia, Fiji and Samoa, the SRU said.

The Australian said: "I'm excited by this challenge. Scotland is a country with a great history in rugby and with Andy there's a real focus point to get it back to where it belongs on the world stage by creating something new and brighter."

Scorers Harlequins: Try Marler; Penalties Evans 2; Saracens: Try Strettle; Conversion Farrell; Penalties Farrell 4.

Harlequins Brown; Stegman (Williams, 34), Hooper, Turner-Hall, Monye; Evans, Care; Marler, Brooker (Gray, 58), Johnston (Fairbrother, 58 , Vallejos, Robson, Fa'asavalu, Robshaw, Easter. Replacements not used Lambert, Matthews, Wallace, Bolt, Clegg.

Saracens Goode; Strettle (Wyles, 42), Farrell (Powell, 73), B Barritt, Short; Hodgson, Stringer (Spencer, 60), Gill (Smit, 60); Brits (George, 77), Nieto (Stevens, 46), Borthwick, Kruis (Botha, 50), Brown (Wray, 73), Saull, Joubert.

Referee W Barnes (RFU).

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