May 16, 2014
Saracens v Harlequins - semi-final preview
Saracens face a resurgent Harlequins team in the semi-final of the Aviva Premiership at Allianz Park, here Henry Fraser previews Saturday's opponents.
After a very up and down season for the 2012 champions, the past couple of months were very welcomed for Harlequins.
They have hit a superb run of form right when it matters most. After being written off by most people they have fought back hard to finish in the top four. They are going into the playoffs as the form team (in terms of results) with five consecutive premiership wins.
The Quins England trio of Mike Brown, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw are key figures and cogs in everything they do. After they were rested against Sarries at Wembley, they have proven to be the deciding factor in their winning run.
Harlequins love to play a high tempo game and keep the ball alive as much as possible to break down defences. They also do this by keeping the ball for a long amount of time. In the majority of matches they play they dominate the possession stats. In a game like this patience is key for Sarries as they should back their defence to for the errors and continue their ruthless punishment of mistakes.
Looking through both teams one vital position is important for both. The battle of the number eights is going to be huge. Nick Easter adds great go forward up front for Harlequins. He loves to carry the ball and exploits any gaps in the defence and especially around the breakdown and his offloading game causes even more threats. His contest against Sarries' huge, hard carrying Billy Vunipola will be worth the admission price alone.
If any of the previous meetings between these two sides is anything to go by this Saturdays semi final will be a great match. With the added spice of a Premiership final at stake the match will be very hotly contested.
22/3/14 Saracens 39 - 17 Harlequins
28/9/13 Harlequins 12 - 22 Saracens
24/3/13 Saracens 27 - 12 Harlequins
Players to watch
Danny Care - No matter what team he plays in he likes to set the tempo at which his side play. Care is lightening quick at the breakdown to keep play flowing fast and keeping defences honest. If he spots any gap around the fringe of the breakdown he will take it and punish any lazy defenders. His quick taps at penalties can prove deadly, so discipline to not give him that opportunity is very important.
Mike Brown - England's player of the season could prove to deciding factor in Saturdays semi final. He is almost unbeatable under the high ball so kicks must chased hard to pressure Brown and try to get him to make a mistake. Brown is one of the best counter attackers around and the majority of time will beat the first defender. A very tight kick chase should stop him early. His battle with Sarries Alex Goode will be one to watch!