MATCH REPORT | Harlequins 40-31 Saracens Men
Saracens Men started their Premiership Rugby Cup campaign with a tough defeat as they were beaten 40-31 in an entertaining match at The Twickenham Stoop.
The Men in Black once again came from behind and nearly completed an incredible comeback but this time it was a step too far as their quest to come from 30 points down ended in a narrow defeat, however the character shown in the final quarter will give the coaches plenty to be proud of.
It was a slow start to the match but with 10 minutes played Sarries struck to give themselves the lead with their first attack.
Toby Knight burst through a gap in the defence and his audacious offload to Manu Vunipola took the skipper right up to the line. Sam Bryan’s wide looping pass then found Ollie Stonham in acres who could dot down unattended in the corner. The conversion went just wide, but the visitors were now 5-0 in front.
It took them just five more minutes to double their lead as they threatened to take control of the match. A succession of penalties took them right up to the line, and then from the resulting lineout the maul powered over which allowed Ethan Lewis to dive over from close range.
The hosts then woke up and looked to strike as former Saracen Aaron Morris broke down the left wing, but he was met by a determined Francis Moore who ripped the ball away as the last man to stop what appeared to be a great chance.
They struck with their next opportunity though to get right back in the match. A penalty was kicked to the corner, and Nathan Jibulu was there at the base after a strong maul to dot down. Jamie Benson’s conversion cut Sarries’ lead to three points with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The hosts then got in front almost immediately as the home crowd rose to their feet after Connor Slevin’s score put them in the lead. An offload unfortunately went to a Harlequins hand, and Zach Carr looked to be away but Bryan’s covering tackle stopped him just short, however from the next phase they went from left to right and the full-back was there to take full advantage.
Just before the break Quins put their foot down and scored with the final play to put themselves firmly in the driving seat. A kick pinballed around and it ended up in Carr’s hands, who dummied his way over from 20 metres out. Benson’s conversion meant that Sarries trailed 21-10 at the break.
The visitors looked to add some extra pace in to the game straight after the break and were very close to crossing the whitewash when Lewis and Dan’s smart play from the back of a lineout created some space, but a Quins hand got in the way to stop it.
Quins then scored their fourth as they began to pull away with 30 minutes left. A counter attack gave them some space out wide, and Jake Murray gathered with his first touch to dive over in acrobatic style. The conversion was added and now Sarries needed to overturn an 18 point deficit.
Before anyone had caught their breath the hosts were over again, this time a kick ahead popped up nicely for Bryn Bradley who went over from close range to extend the lead even further.
Tom Osborne then took advantage of another strong maul for their sixth score, bringing up the 40 point mark for the hosts.
Sarries did get a deserved try when Lewis capitalised on another maul for his second of the night, and then just seconds later Brandon Jackson charged a kick down and ran clear to dive under the posts, meaning all of sudden with two Manu Vunipola conversions that Sarries were now back to 40-24.
Charlie Reynolds-West was then inches from making it three in three minutes as he gathered to score but the referee came back for an earlier infringement, putting a pause on what could have become another sensational comeback.
Ben Harris had other ideas though, as he was the beneficiary of Vunipola’s brilliant chip over the top to run clear for Saracens’ third try in eight minutes, as hope began to grow for the visitors. Vunipola added the extras, meaning that incredibly the deficit was down to nine points with as many minutes left.
It proved be one hurdler too many though, and Quins ran down the clock to confirm the victory despite an incredible rally from the visitors.