Harlequins punished for lack of focus

Saracens 39 Harlequins 25
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Saracens gave Harlequins the highest hammering in the history of league matches between these two old rivals and will now greet the New Year in the top half of the Premiership.

If the six-try rout tends to flatter them a trifle they were not worrying about it last night. This was Quins' fifth successive Premiership defeat and as their head coach John Kingston put it so succinctly: "It now means a miserable time for us, we are third from bottom and have no chance to do anything about it for four weeks. It is a nightmare."

It was something of a nightmare on the pitch as well, with the team dubbed the top people's club and the Fancy Dans of the game conceding a very early score for the third time and adding to that a catalogue of costly errors and a general lack of focus.

They won less than their share of possession while Saracens looked dangerous and purposeful throughout, even if they did slacken off momentarily either side of half-time, and treated the 13,257 crowd, their highest attendance of the season, to some rousing stuff. And when the visitors did get close enough to pose a threat they came up against a rock solid defence.

The size of the crowd was a contributing factor to the kick-off being delayed by 15 minutes in order to help squeeze the spectators in. And there were quite a few who missed Saracens' first try, coming as it did 48 seconds after the late kick-off, when Paul Burke's high kick ahead bounced forward from the Quins flanker Tu Tamarua straight into the arms of the right wing Gerald Arasa, who wasted little time in sprinting 40 metres upfield, off-loaded to Tim Horan and the Australian centre cruised over.

Burke's drop goal and the first of his penalties clawed back the advantage for Quins but Saracens had their own big gun in Jannie de Beer. The former Springbok fly-half might have missed the conversion of that early try but his 48-metre, 12th minute penalty restored both the natural order and the voices of the home fans.

By now Harlequins were finding themselves under pressure in almost every area of the game. The Saracens captain Kyran Bracken was doing great things at the base of the scrum, posing serious problems for Matt Powell, one of half a dozen former Saracens returning to their old club.

And it was Tony Diprose, one time captain of Saracens who had an inadvertent hand in the home side's second try. Burke failed to find touch, Arasa gathered the ball then passed to the full-back Adryan Winnan.

The teenager hoofed the ball high towards the Harlequins posts, Diprose unfortunately failed to align himself correctly, was beaten by the bounce and by Winnan on his follow-up and the 18-year-old raced after the ball, thumping it into the turf for a try.

It was another Harlequin howler under the high ball which led to Saracens' third try. De Beer thumped one into the ionosphere and Ryan O'Neill, under pressure from Horan lost it and Tony Roques pounced. Judging by this unwelcome hat-trick of errors under the high ball Quins might benefit by training in a cocktail bar.

Seven minutes later Saracens had their first bonus point of the season in the bag after the hooker Robbie Russell powered in with two would-be tacklers hanging on his back and a third coming in far too late to stop his barrelling run.

As usual Burke kept his team in the hunt with near-immaculate kicking, but Harlequins were woefully short of ball out wide, Dan Luger was starved of possession, and apart from an occasional half break there was little for Saracens to worry about.

Not even Will Greenwood offered much in the way of a threat except at the end when he intercepted Kevin Sorrell's pass for Quins' solitary try. By then though they were out of sight, Bracken and the outstanding No 8 Ben Cole having added further tries.

Saracens: Tries Arasa, Winnan, Roques, Russell, Bracken, Cole; Conversions de Beer 3; Penalty de Beer. Harlequins: Try Greenwood; Conversion Burke; Penalties Burke 5; Drop goal Burke.

Saracens: A Winnan; G Arasa, K Sorrell, T Horan, D O'Mahony; J de Beer (R Haughton, 76), K Bracken (capt) (N Walshe, 78); D Flatman, R Russell (M Cairns, 78), P Durant (S Phillips, 60), K Benazzi (K Chesney, 52; S Hooper, 78), S Murray (K Roche, 73), R Hill, B Cole, A Roques.

Harlequins: R O'Neill; M Moore, W Greenwood, N Greenstock (C Bell, h-t), D Luger; P Burke, M Powell; B Starr (J Dawson, h-t), J Roddam, J Leonard, G Morgan (capt), A Codling (B Davison, 60), R Winters, A Diprose, T Tamarua.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool)