Saracens make scary statement of intent in Harlequins thrashing as end of an era nears

Saracens 52-7 Harlequins: The defending champions put the rest of the Premiership on notice in an eight-try thrashing of their London rivals

Harry Latham-Coyle
at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Saturday 23 March 2024 17:52 GMT
(Getty Images)

The end of an era may be approaching for Saracens but their time as the Premiership’s ruling class is, on this evidence, far from over. The English top flight may be more competitive than ever but is hard to shake a sense that come the crunch it will be Saracens that will ultimately possess with winning blend of belief and brilliance, as they have done so often over the last decade and a half.

Coach Mark McCall played down the idea that the impending departures of Owen Farrell and Vunipolas would create any extra motivation for his squad in the week, but this was a statement performance to start a six-game sprint into the playoffs. On their annual trip to the home of Tottenham Hotspur, any Ange-ball devotees in the close-to-capacity crowd would have enjoyed the attacking adventures that Saracens produced in an eight-try thrashing.

These trips to bigger stadia are crucial pillars of the commercial strategy for both these clubs, Harlequins’ Big Game now a fixture in the festive calendar and this Showdown fast becoming a post-Six Nations treat, too. If a sermon on the roof didn’t provide quite enough of a pre-match spectacle, the presence of a gospel choir to herald the arrival of captain Farrell on his 250th Saracens appearance ensured an appropriate level of pomp. The fly half responded with a fine controlling performance, pulling the strings in attack and setting the tone in defence in a dominant performance.

“Owen was incredible,” McCall said afterwards. “He played as well as I’ve seen him for a very long time. It looked like it mattered to him today, and I think it is going to be like that for the rest of the season. He didn’t enjoy being the centre of attention during the week but the players wanted to make it special because they think so highly of him.”

Owen Farrell impressed as he prepares to bid farewell to Saracens at the end of the season (Getty Images)

The defending champions arrived close to fully loaded despite the rigours of the Six Nations not yet far from the rear view mirror. Even with Maro Itoje rested having played every minute of England’s Six Nations campaign, McCall could name six internationals in his starting pack with another half-a-dozen Test forwards held in reserve.

Theo Dan and Ben Earl were deemed able to feature after their international exertions, and sparked their side into life, showing off some fancy footwork to break the line. Space appeared on the left with Harlequins short of numbers, and Elliot Daly – deployed at full-back – provided the linking hands needed to send Alex Lewington over in the corner.

The pack then went to work in a more traditional manner. Harlequins captain Stephan Lewies was sent to the sin bin after a succession of penalties on their own line, and his colleagues were powerless to stop a maul that Dan successfully shepherded to the line. When Theo McFarland sparked a counter attack and Sean Maitland, called in to the side on matchday with Rotimi Segun a late scratch, scored in the corner, Harlequins were 19 points down inside 19 minutes without really having had sight of the ball.

“Our attack might seem loose, but there is a lot of method behind what you might see as madness,” Dan explained afterwards. “When you’ve got Elliot chucking through-the-leg passes, it can seem loose, but he scanned and saw two guys outside him, so why not? It was just one of those days where it just clicked and everything was coming off.”

Sean Maitland scored twice for Saracens (Getty Images)

The bonus point arrived soon enough. While old stereotypes have been hard to shake, Saracens have cast off the shackles in the last two seasons to embrace a more extravagant style, showing off their circus skills to gift Maitland a second. Farrell, Nick Tompkins and Lucio Cinti were all involved in the routine but it was Daly’s between-the-legs pass that got the crowd, and Jamie George, gasping.

At half time, Saracens had made ten offloads to Harlequins none and nearly five times as many metres as their visitors. The interval provided about the only impediment on the day, Dan picking up where he left off with another maul score soon after re-emerging.

Alex Dombrandt’s short-range score belatedly got Quins on the board but they continued to struggle to slow Saracens, Cinti romping under the posts to continue the rout before compatriot Juan Martin Gonzalez and Alex Goode added tries seven and eight. Defence coach Jerry Flannery was tempted away from Harlequins during the Premiership’s pause by Rassie Erasmus and South Africa; no replacement has yet been appointed but appears to be sorely needed.

Harlequins and Marcus Smith struggled to combat Saracens (Getty Images)

Of course, it may not have mattered who was drilling the defence given the strike runners Saracens possess. In McFarland, Earl and Argentina’s Juan Martin Gonzalez, McCall has three of the rugby’s most freakish athletes at his disposal, with the long-limbed, versatile Cinti beginning to settle in nicely to the backline.

Replacing Farrell’s class and competitiveness at fly half will not be straightforward with a club normally so good at plotting their transfer business caught off guard by their captain’s desire to head to France. The signature of Newcastle youngster Louie Johnson is expected to be confirmed imminently with Kiwi Fergus Burke also strongly linked, and Alex Lozowski considered a genuine option once back from a serious knee injury next season.

But that can all wait for another day – this current crop have their sights on a seventh title and will take some stopping.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in