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

Wembley

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?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence