Saracens 39 Harlequins 17 match report: Jet-setting Saracens turn on five-star performance

Sun shines on world-record crowd as they witness fine display by Premiership leaders


As Saracens fly off to New York today for one of their famous mid-season breaks they are comfortably positioned as both the Premiership’s jetsetters and pacesetters. This five-try win over a Harlequins side depleted by choice and by injuries in front of a world record crowd for a club match was a superb way to kick off the run-in to the season that annually develops that scintillating extra frisson as soon as the Six Nations Championship is out of the way.

Whereas Quins gave a rest to three of their four current England players – Danny Care went off to be best man at his brothers’ wedding, Mike Brown sought some sun in Dubai and Chris Robshaw kept his plans to himself – Saracens recaptured top place in the league with Owen Farrell straight back in the front line. The feisty fly-half actually missed a goal-kick – it was after Jacques Burger’s bonus-point try in the 58th minute and it drew a gasp of disbelief among the 83,889 spectators whose numbers exceeded by 128 the record set by this fixture two years ago – and overcooked one touch-finder on the pristine but unyielding Wembley turf. Otherwise Farrell shared on the overall subjugation by gobbling up a crucial interception try just before half-time as he embellished a remarkable record of success against Saracens’ London rivals. Of the last 10 meetings, Saracens have won nine, and Farrell, still aged just 22, has played the eight most recent  of them, accumulating 123 of his club’s 186 points in that period.

If there was a black mark for Sarries it was the clattering swinging arm to the head by Quins’ flanker Maurie Fa’asavalu that ended Dave Strettle’s involvement after only five minutes. Strettle was being pitched forward in a tackle as Fa'asavalu arrived and the television match official Sean Davey decided the Saracen had “ducked into” the challenge with no need for the referee Tim Wigglesworth to take further action. Later on, an off the ball slap involving Saracens’ scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth (no relation) was reviewed, and led to a reversed penalty. Strettle received eight minutes’ treatment and was taken off on a stretcher but was soon up and about. Mark McCall, Saracens’ director of rugby, had no critical comment to make about Fa’asavalu, saying he “hadn’t seen the [TV] angle everyone is talking about.” McCall’s Harlequins counterpart Conor O’Shea also brushed it off.

One wonders what any non-rugby aficionados here – and there must be plenty taking the rare chance of a Wembley ticket, with prices from £7.50 for children up to £60 – made of that or the other no-arms and late tackles that littered the play. Otherwise the sunny spectacle served up by the champions of 2011 hosting the ones from 2012 was decent. It was boosted by the rush of excitement of Saracens’ first interception try, carried from their 22-metre line for Chris Ashton, complete with ‘splash’ finish, after Quins’ Nick Easter, captain in Robshaw’s absence, tossed a careless overhead pass. Ashton, like his fellow wing Strettle, has disappeared from England sight of late but he revelled in his gallop across football’s national stadium. With Farrell’s conversion, Saracens led 7-0 after nine minutes’ play not including the Strettle hiatus.

Nick Evans and Farrell kicked a penalty each for 10-3, and Quins – who might be regarded as holding things together well considering they lost Ben Botica and Tom Williams as last-minute withdrawals, and Joe Gray and Joe Trayfoot during the match – responded to George Kruis’s try-scoring canter past Nick Kennedy in the 29th minute with a show-and-go snipe by Karl Dickson much in the manner of Care to score two minutes later. But Farrell’s penalty and conversion of his own try picking off Evans’s monstrously optimistic miss-pass in the Harlequins 22 made it 27-10 by the interval. It was a misrepresentation, maybe, of the balance of play but Saracens, who will doubtless engage in their own squad rotation against Wasps next weekend – they arrive back from New York on a jetlag-defying daytime flight on Wednesday, and are planning stringently for their Heineken Cup quarter-final in Ulster on Saturday week – could not care less.

The gloriously promising talents of Kruis were showcased again in the Burger try. Sam Smith’s smart short-side try for Quins off a line-out move while Kruis’s second-row colleague Steve Borthwick was in the sin bin for Saracens had been converted by Evans, four minutes into the second half. But Quins ignored a goal kick even when any kind of points here would have been handy in their pursuit of a play-off spot, made nothing from a penalty put into touch and were still 10 points adrift when Borthwick returned.

That was the cue for a very neat front-of-the-line-out ploy between Kruis and Shalk Brits, with the latter going on to sidestep Smith’s tackle and send the supporting Burger over. Marcelo Bosch’s jinking finish in the 80th minute converted by Farrell’s replacement Charlie Hodgson was aptly emphatic.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch, B Barritt, D Strettle (D Taylor, 6); O Farrell (C Hodgson, 64), R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 50); M Vunipola (R Barrington, 61), S Brits (J George, 61), J Johnston (M Stevens, 50), S Borthwick (capt), G Kruis (M Botha, 72), J Wray (K Brown, 61), J Burger, E Joubert.

Harlequins: O Lindsay-Hague; S Smith, M Hopper, T Casson, U Monye; N Evans, K Dickson (S Stuart, 74), J Marler (M Lambert, 62), J Gray (D Ward, 42), K Sinckler (P Doran-Jones, 62), N Kennedy (J Trayfoot, 60; J Turner-Hall, 74), G Robson, M Fa’asavalu (T Guest, 60), L Wallace, N Easter (capt).

Referee: T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Johnny Handle, Northumberland, Ted Relph, President of Lakeland Dialect Society, and Sid Calderbank, Lancashire, founder of the National Dialect Day
newsMeet the enthusiasts determined to stop them dying out
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Argyll, has remained derelict for more than 25 years
arts + ents

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game