Sarries down Quins to make it four from four
September 28, 2013
Chris Ashton (right) grabbed the only try of the game
© Getty Images
Saracens made it four from four in the Aviva Premiership as they beat Harlequins 22-12 at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.
Chris Ashton rounded off an eye-catching move for his second try of the campaign and Owen Farrell kicked five penalties and a conversion to help the north London club to a fourth successive victory. It was the first time the Premiership's only unbeaten team had failed to claim a try-scoring bonus point, but the manner in which they crushed a major rival in a one-sided second half sounded an ominous warning to the rest of the league.
Harlequins' aggressive defence was outstanding as they initially matched the pacesetters blow for blow and they deserved to lead 12-6 at the interval after Nick Evans had landed four penalties. But having run themselves into the ground, their resistance faded and they repeatedly flung the ball in hope as Saracens expertly ground them into submission.
Namibian openside Jacques Burger, the dominant force at the breakdown, finished man of the match following another fearless display.
Only an unkind bounce prevented Saracens scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth from scoring early on as he blocked Evans' clearance, but the ball tricked beyond his reach and out of the in goal area. A frantic opening continued as Ugo Monye flattened Chris Wyles and George Lowe executed a try-saving tackle on David Strettle who lose the footrace to the whitewash.
Monye easily rounded Ashton as Quins attacked down the left, exposing the England wing's defence, chipped ahead and was then blocked by a shoulder from Alex Goode. Sending Goode to the sin bin was an easy decision for referee Martin Fox and Evans slotted his second penalty, Quins led 6-0.
Tom Williams, making his 200th appearance for Harlequins, produced two big tackles in succession and Lowe took a bang to the head as he brought down Ashton. Farrell kicked a penalty for Saracens but Quins replied with a driving maul through the heart of the opposition pack and having spent much of the opening quarter in their own half, they were now in the ascendency.
The lead was restored to six points by the boot of Evans, but that was threatened when Kelly Brown broke clear from a line-out and, seeing space before him, he dashed towards the line. The Scotland blindside looked destined to score, but Williams turned him over. Maurie Fa'asavalu yanked down Jacques Burger as a scuffle broke out and was sent to the sin bin as a result.
Farrell and Evans swapped penalties and the half ended with Strettle knocking on over the line. Saracens had begun to build pressure as the interval approached and this continued when play resumed as they won penalties at successive scrums.
Billy Vunipola was becoming increasingly prominent and the first try arrived shortly after he had made the hard yards with Strettle, Farrell and Wyles instrumental in sending Ashton over. Farrell converted and kicked a penalty and to rub salt into Quins' growing wounds prop Joe Marler was sin-binned for pulling down a maul.
A turnover was secured by Robshaw, who ripped the ball from Vunipola, but Saracens were irrepressible as they powered back upfield after capitalising on the growing number of errors made by the 2012 champions. Two more penalties arrived from Farrell and when Evans missed a late penalty, the losing bonus points had slipped from Quins' hands.
Reflecting on his side's latest success, Sarries boss Mark McCall said: "In many ways that was the most satisfying win we've had this season. Gloucester, Bath and Quins in a row was a tough ask, but it's been the manner of the way we started - we've played some decent rugby along the way.
"We've got off to a flyer, but Northampton look incredibly impressive. But it's not about how you start, it's about how you end. We just always want to be there or thereabouts and put ourselves in the frame for the top four, but we never look too far ahead."
Harlequins director of rugby Conor O'Shea was impressed by Saracens, but agreed with McCall that it is too early to view them as Premiership champions in waiting. "They're physically very powerful and were the better side on the day," O'Shea said.
"We played well in the first half, but in the second half we just didn't hold on to the ball for any length of time. Saracens have huge strength in depth and probably have most of their key players fit. Everyone knows they are an excellent team and will take some stopping, but Northampton went six from six at the start of last season. Things change drastically in the season.
"We're disappointed to lose at home, but it's important the players don't feel sorry for themselves. We're fine and I'm very comfortable with the group of players we have."
Maurie Fa'asavalu and Jacques Burger lock horns © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Proposals to remove promotion and relegation from the Aviva Premiership would be for the good of the game overall, argues John Taylor
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery