Possession may be nine-tenths of the law but rugby is a different matter, with or without the Experimental Law Variations. Saracens had plenty of the ball against Harlequins, a club they are ferocious rivals with on and off the field, but came out losers. "Harlequins don't play with a lot of possession, they're a side who play off your possession," said Eddie Jones, the Saracens director of rugby. "A good stat for winning against Harlequins is field position, and we didn't establish enough pressure on them."
Harlequins certainly had their woes in the tight set-piece in the first half but as Jones' Quins counterpart Dean Richards put it: "The effort was massive, there were a lot of people who wanted to play for each other out there and it doesn't matter if you don't win a line-out or a scrum, you put it in for the team and start defending."
The taking of chances is imperative in these circumstances, and Quins' wings Dave Strettle and Ugo Monye are two of the most ruthless finishers around. In Danny Care, the scrum-half capped by England in the summer, and Nick Evans the recently signed All Black fly-half, they had the sharpest of providers. Evans ran and passed smoothly, and kicked 11 points before he limped off after what Richards called "a blow on the leg".
Monye also showed a flair for showboating with a Usain Bolt-style side-to-side shimmy and point of the finger when he was on the way to the posts from Care's switch pass behind a line-out in the 51st minute, giving Quins a lead they did not let go. It earned Monye a rebuke from captain Will Skinner but, you suspect, there was a smile there too.
Skinner's work at the breakdown was ferocious after his team grabbed a try inside the first minute. The experimental law variation which creates 10 metres' extra space between the backlines at the scrum was exploited by Care, who scuttled to the short side and fed Strettle on the overlap. "I couldn't believe Saracens defended it the way they did, it was quite a strange defensive pattern but it's not my problem," Richards said. "We saw that, reacted to it and scored from it." Care commented: "I was chuffed for Strets, he's a world class winger and should be playing for England." To do so Strettle would need to be promoted from the Saxons squad, where he was placed by Martin Johnson after the tour of New Zealand dogged by lurid headlines.
Both clubs have held press calls recently in front of Tower Bridge, laying claim to the London landscape. As the bridge goes up and down, so will the season, and Saracens will trust their huge pack – with Chris Jack, the eminent All Black lock, currently set loose at blindside flanker – to pay dividends. They led 11-8 early in the second half, when Adam Powell sprinted 50 metres to a solo try, but Glen Jackson, who otherwise kicked with his customary accuracy, missed the conversion.
Saracens: Tries Powell, De Kock; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 3. Harlequins: Tries Strettle, Monye; Conversion Evans; Penalties Evans 2, Luveniyali; Drop goal Evans.
Saracens: D Scarbrough; F Leonelli (R Penney, 56), K Sorrell, A Powell, K Ratuvou; G Jackson, N de Kock (M Rauluni, 69); N Lloyd (M Aguero, 65), M Cairns (F Ongaro, 65), C Johnston (C Visagie, 65), S Borthwick (capt), H Vyvyan, C Jack, D Seymour (B Skirving, 45), M Owen.
Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall (E Taione, 69), U Monye; N Evans (W Luveniyali, 65), D Care (A Gomarsall, 79); C Jones, T Fuga, M Ross (J Brooks, 74), O Kohn, G Robson, C Robshaw, W Skinner (capt), N Easter.
Referee: W Barnes (London).Reuse content