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Sunday, 10 January 2016

Harlequins bring Saracens unbeaten run to an end at Twickenham Stoop

It was round 9 in the English Premiership Rugby Union. A clash of giants awaited an eager crowd at the Twickenham Stoop.

The visitors, Saracens, came into the weekend as table toppers and unbeaten this season: 8 wins from 8, with 4 bonus points.

Hosts Harlequins were third in the table: 5 wins, 1 draw, 5 bonus points. The stage was set for a fierce contest. The hosts had only beaten the visitors once in their past 14 meetings. Quins, however, have been on top form recently and on a good day they are unbeatable. The question was simple – would a home team playing with immense confidence upset the dominating performance of the visitors?

A strong support base cheered the two teams onto the field.

Harlequins kicked off proceedings. There was a dogged determination to their play. Advantaged was awarded to the home side, upgraded to a penalty. This was reversed after Horwill was sin-binned after knocking out Kruis. The Saracens number 5 was stretchered from the field with comforting applause from the spectators. Play resumed with Itoje joining the field for the visitors and just 90 seconds gone from game.

Farrell kicked for a line-out within the Quins' half. The home side knocked-on whilst challenging for possession handing a scrum to Saracens.

The visitors' dominance in the scrum was evident from the beginning as the home side were pushed backwards at pace. Another penalty to Sarries who again kicked further up the field for another attacking line-out. Robshaw was then penalised for a side-entry into the maul which had formed.

It was a simple line-out for the visitors who were then awarded advantage. On they pushed, however, heading for the whitewash. Penalty after penalty were being awarded to Saracens as more and more scrums were reset. Harlequins Captain Danny Care was called over to have a chat with the referee Craig Maxwell-Keys.

The scrum was again reset and Saracens drove on with scrum-half de Kock being awarded the try. Farrell added the conversion: Harlequins 0 – Saracens 7 after 11 minutes.

Evans sent the restart long. Goode gathered well and sent the ball back up field and into touch just inside the Quins' half. At this moment Horwill returned to the field having served his yellow card.

Robshaw secured line-out ball and Yarde made ground out on the wing. The fans upped their voices in support of the home side. A knock-on, however, handed play to Saracens who strolled into touch at the half-way line. Horwill received treatment for a leg injury before securing line-out ball. However the referee awarded a scrum to the visitors, believing the ball had been knocked-on.

Harlequins were penalised for collapsing the scrum and Farrell again sent it long into touch for a line-out in the host's 22. Possession was secured by the visitors; advantage was awarded, upgraded to a penalty after Roberts was deemed to have failed to roll away after a tackle. The Saracens fly-half lined up the posts but missed the opportunity to add another three points to the board.

At the restart, Evans opted to kick deep. Saracens gathered and sent it back allowing Brown to show just how good he is when gathering the high ball. Rapturous applause resonated around The Stoop as finally a penalty went Quins' way. Evans placed the ball in touch for a line-out on the visitors' 22. Matthews secured the ball and passed to Care before his feet even touched the ground. The Captain and scrum-half broke through the Saracens defence and offloaded to Buchanan who crossed for a try.

Evans failed to add the extra two points: Harlequins 5 – 7 Saracens with a quarter of the game played.

A game of football ensued as both teams attempted to settle. The visitors changed tack with a grubber kick which Yarde was able to gather. A scrum was awarded to the visitors 10 metres from the Quins' try line.

Billy Vunipola made short work of the home side's defence and crossed the whitewash. Farrell added the conversion: Harlequins 5 – 14 Saracens after 27 minutes. Taylor then left the field for the visitors to undergo a concussion assessment. Tompkins was his replacement.
Brown was powerful on the restart however within a few phases the visitors turned over the ball. Quins regained possession following a superb catch by Luke Wallace. A penalty was awarded and the home side kicked to the corner. Saracens stole the line-out and box-kicked into touch handing Quins an attacking platform. The line-out ball was gathered well by Matthews and another penalty was awarded to the home side. Evans opted for the posts and his boot was accurate: Harlequins 8 – 14 Saracens after 32 minutes.

Saracens opted to kick the ball long on the restart which started another aerial battle. Quins overturned the ball before the visitors stole it back. Harlequins then knocked-on whilst attempting an interception. Scrum to the visitors just inside their own half. The scrum held firm and after retrieving the ball, Saracens sent it wide.

Another knock-on and another penalty. The visitors were then penalised for not hitting straight and Danny Care acted quickly, running the ball. Quins recycled well and were very aware of the field of play, avoiding slipping into touch. Yarde broke through the defence and was brought down just short of the try line. He managed to offload the ball, injuring himself in the process. Clifford crossed for a try and Evans converted. The hosts took the lead for the first time this game and headed into the break with a positive outlook.

Half Time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 15 – 14 Saracens

There was positive news for the hosts as they retook the field for the second half. Following his try, Clifford was required to go through a concussion assessment. He passed and joined his teammates.

Quins were awarded the first penalty of the second half and Evans only managed to get the ball a short distance before it found its way into touch. The hosts kept possession and box-kicked out. Saracens threw a quick line-out and kicked long forcing Brown to back peddle and secure the ball just 5 metres from his own try line. Quins kicked long allowing Saracens to build again. They were penalised for holding on and Evans cleared but failed to find touch.

The hosts were then penalised for going to ground and Farrell lined up the posts. His boot returned Saracens to the lead: Harlequins 15 – 17 Saracens after 46 minutes.

Another long restart; Saracens returned the ball; Brown and Chisholm worked well together. The visitors stole possession after a hard tackle on Brown. While he received treatment the referee watched several replays and deemed the tackle legal. Play resumed with a line-out. Quins won it and box-kicked out; Saracens came again.

A forward pass handed a scrum to Quins just outside their own 22. Care fed the scrum; Clifford claimed the ball and ran making limited progress. They box-kicked from a ruck; gathered by Saracens who then found touch back in the hosts' territory. Play switched hands as line-outs were won; the ball kicked long only for it to be returned for more set-pieces.

Time for a change and Saracens brought on Wigglesworth in place of de Kock. The visitors had possession and their forwards attempted to weaken the Quins' defence. This tactic worked as the hosts conceeded a penalty and Farrell extended the lead: Harlequins 15 – 20 Saracens after 53 minutes.

Harlequins, too, decided to have a reshuffle and Botica replaced Evans at fly-half. He sent the restart long and the visitors plaved the ball into touch on the halfway line. They stole possesion and progressed up the field. Goode passed wide to Ellery and only a last gasp tackle prevented a try. Saracens captain George was passed the ball and he crossed the whitewash however the try was disallowed after reviews showed obstruction.

Botica got play underway again and the hosts earned a line-out just outside the visitor's 22. A knock-on, however, handed a scrum to Saracens. Robshaw produced a thumping tackle on Farrell as 'welcome to The Stoop' rang out from the stands. Sensible play from Botica saw him guide the ball into the dead zone allowing Quins to clear their lines. The hosts earned a penalty and Botica brought them to within two points of the visitors: Harlequins 18 – 20 Saracens with under a quarter of the game left to play.

More replacements as Buchanan left for Ward (Quins) and Mako Vunipola made way for Gill (Saracens).

Farrell extended the visitors' lead after being handed yet another penalty: Harlequins 18 – 23 Saracens with 15 minutes left on the clock.

The restart ball was sent long by the hosts. Saracens claimed and box-kicked back and Brown gathered. A nasty tackle on Lowe saw recent Saracens' replacement, Rhys Gill, make his way to the sin-bin. His yellow card was changed to red after numerous replays showed just how dangerous his spear-tackle was. The visitors had to play the remaining 14 minutes with just 14 men.

Botica kicked to the corner for an attacking line-out. They secured the ball, formed a maul and broke towards the line. The whistle blew for a penalty and Botica kicked for the posts and once again brought Quins back to within two points: Harlequins 21 – 23 Saracens with 13 minutes left.

The rain, which had been falling steadily throughout the afternoon, turned into a downpour.

The boot of Botica stayed true and just 5 minutes after his last successful penalty he was asked to repeat the task. The Stoop fell silent and the pressure on this kick could be felt. Rising to the challenge, the replacement fly-half added the three points and Quins were once again in the lead: Harlequins 24 – 23 Saracens with under 10 minutes left to play. The fans erupted and the atmosphere jubilent.

The visitors had not lost in their past 15 games and did not want to lose now, certainly at the hands of Harlequins. They brought on Charlie Hodgson - their intent was clear. Saracens gained possession. Their forwards grab and drove time and again into the Harlequins defence. Little by little they progressed up the field towards the posts. Hodgson was in prime position to receive the ball and attempt a drop-goal. The question was how much ground did the forwards intend on claiming before sending the ball out? The answer? Too much. Their tactics were telegraphed and Robshaw took the opportunity to get his boot into the ruck and kick out the ball. His teammates reacted quickly and made great strides back towards the visitor's try line.

They earned a penalty and kicked to the corner. The clock was getting close to zero and Quins were determined not to let victory slip from their grasp. They kept the pressure on and in a dream finish Horwill crossed the whitewash. Botica failed to add the conversion which, had it been successful, would have prevented Saracens from gaining a losing bonus point.

Full Time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 29 – 23 Saracens

Attendance: 14,800

posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 1:30 pm  

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