It has not been the easiest of weeks for Saracens. Docked a couple of points for fielding an unregistered player, a penalty that plunged them to the wrong end of the table, yesterday they almost lost a match that they had been running away with and picked up three yellow cards.
At least this narrow victory saw them climb a few places, while Harlequins' consolation for losing the match and the Zurich Premiership lead was to salvage a point for finishing within seven points of their opponents.
It needed armfuls of help from Saracens, however. And they duly obliged. They were down to 13 men with two in the sin bin as Quins began a desperate rearguard action in which they scored 17 points in the last 13 minutes.
Things had got off to a bad start for Saracens, who found the pushy Harlequins forwards in their faces from very early on and eventually prop Ceri Jones went over on the end of a good drive in the fourth minute. Paul Burke landed the conversion and it looked as if Quins were going to have things pretty much their own way.
Unfortunately, they developed an alarming propensity to give away penalties and had long ceded the lead when Saracens scored the first of their three tries.
The opener was a beauty. Quins were pressing hard and threatening, but Nathan McAvoy had other ideas. He collected the ball and propelled his 16-stone 6ft 4in frame through the opposition ranks before thundering upfield for fully 40 metres.
As the Quins cavalry arrived, the former Great Britain Rugby League international slipped a pass inside to Thomas Castaignède, and he sprinted the remaining 35 metres to the line. That try and Andy Goode's conversion effectively turned the game on its head.
Then Burke did the unexpected and missed a penalty and although he landed two more before half-time, Goode kept plenty of clear water between the two teams with three more penalties of his own either side of the interval.
Saracen's second try was another to treasure. Taine Randell gathered a kick ahead, slung out a long pass to Castaignède, who flicked it on to the ever-dangerous Richard Haughton and the flying wing squeezed in brilliantly at the right hand corner.
Then Quins pressed back very hard and Saracens eventually squeaked. Prop Andy Kershaw was sin-binned, followed by Kris Chesney, and while Saracens were down to 13 men, Quins were awarded a penalty try. Then replacement wing Simon Keogh crossed out wide. Each try was converted by replacement fly-half Andy Dunne, who then knocked over the conversion that earned the bonus point.
Saracens: Tries Castaignède, Haughton, Randell; Conversions Goode 3; Penalties Goode 5; Drop Goals Goode.
Harlequins: Tries Jones, Pen Try Keogh; Conversions Burke, Dunne 2; Penalties Burke 3, Dunne.
Saracens: T Castaignède; R Haughton, K Sorrell (M Batholomeusz, 63), B Johnston, N McAvoy; A Goode, P Phibbs; S Sparks (A Kershaw, h-t), J Parkes, E Bergamaschi (J Marsters, 63), S Raiwalui (capt), A Codling (B Skirving, 38), K Chesney, T Randell, T Roques (J Ross, 74-80+3).
Harlequins: G Duffy; R Jewell (S Keogh, 53), J Taumalolo, M Deane, U Monye; P Burke (A Dunne, 67), B Willis; C Jones (M Worsley, 53), A Tiatia, J Dawson (L Gomez, 53), B Davison, J Evans, P Sanderson, A Diprose, A Vos (capt; L Sherriff, 5-13).
Referee: D Rose (Birmingham)Reuse content