Quins steal the thunder of Saracens' big day out
Saracens 19 Harlequins 24
At the outset of the open era in the 1990s a young Tony Diprose was among Saracens' intake of professional players bearing witness as the new owner, Nigel Wray, attempted to drag a humdrum club up by its grubby collars and become a power in the land.
Diprose used to pull his own post-match pint from a barrel in the corner of Bramley Road and knew by name each of the proverbial two men and a dog who watched matches against the likes of Harlequins on the council-owned park pitch before Wray's buyout. The grandeur of the Wembley scene, after the intervening years of growing pains and many millions of pounds spent by Wray and his latter-day South African partners, was not lost on Diprose, once Sarries' captain but long since ensconced as Quins' defence coach. "It's exciting for English rugby, as much as anything," Diprose said. "Fantastic in terms of what that does for the game. People will want to pay money and watch rugby like that."
What it did for Harlequins, whose win in front of a world-record crowd for club rugby union broke a sequence of five defeats to Saracens, was to reinforce their position at the top of the Premiership. There are three regular-season rounds remaining and Quins are well set to gain a home tie in the play-offs. Saracens, the second-placed champions seeking a third successive final, are looking over their shoulders at Leicester, Northampton and Exeter, and may have to play away in the semi-finals if they are not careful.
This Harlequins victory, by three tries to one and three yellow cards – to Joe Marler, Danny Care and Nick Easter in the final quarter when they led 24-12 – to none was reminiscent of a win at Northampton on New Year's Day 2011. On that occasion two yellow cards were shrugged off and Chris Robshaw, the Quins captain, outshone his opposite number, Tom Wood. The whole of 2010 had passed with Quins unable to win away in the league; this was their first away win in 2012, and Robshaw, returning from a week's rest after his Six Nations stint as England captain, was at his workaholic best.
Saracens had five of their six current England players back but rested Brad Barritt, the great provider of defensive glue. The counterpoint of Quins' Jordan Turner-Hall and George Lowe ruling the midfield collisions will have been lost only on those among the 83,761 throng more interested in the sideshow act of McFly.
For 70 minutes until a try by the England scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, in his first match for five months, their only points came from penalties by Owen Farrell. "To think back to the days at Bramley Road, it's come a long way," Diprose said. "We talked about it all on the bus to the game; you have to enjoy those occasions and that's what we said to the players. We did not want to not come here and have 80,000 people think 'Oh, they don't do much'. We think we've got a game that challenges most people; we wanted to get our game on the pitch and for the most part we did."
Saracens: Try Wigglesworth; Conversion Farrell; Penalties Farrell 4. Harlequins: Tries Care, Lowe, Turner-Hall; Conversions Evans 2, Clegg; Penalty Clegg.
Saracens A Goode; D Strettle, C Wyles, O Farrell, J Short (M Tagicakibau, 58); C Hodgson, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 51); M Stevens, S Brits, C Nieto (M Vunipola, 49), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis, 58), J Melck (J Wray, 58), W Fraser, E Joubert.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, S Smith; N Evans (R Clegg, 40), D Care; J Marler, R Buchanan, J Johnston, O Kohn (T Vallejos, 72), G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 54, M Lambert, 62-72; K Dickson, 72), C Robshaw (capt), N Easter.
Referee G Garner (London).
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