Premiership Rugby

Saracens Opens League Campaign With Thrilling Win At The Stoop

Saracens Opens League Campaign With Thrilling Win At The Stoop

Saracens began its Premiership campaign in thrilling fashion by overcoming an early 17-0 deficit to beat Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop.

Sep 20, 2022 by RugbyPass
Saracens Opens League Campaign With Thrilling Win At The Stoop

Saracens began its Premiership campaign in thrilling fashion by overcoming an early 17-0 deficit to beat Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop.

The London derby always is fairly heated, and this encounter was no different, offering up tries galore and a second half comeback orchestrated by last season's finalists, who came out the victors, 30-27.

Before kickoff, Harlequins felt aggrieved by the absence of star fly-half Marcus Smith, who was not granted early release from the 10-week rest period imposed on England players who traveled to Australia for their summer series.

However, inconsistency in the policy meant Saracens was able to field numerous England stars that featured against the Wallabies, including Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola.

If the Harlequins squad was dented by the ruling, they didn't show it in the opening exchanges, as they cruised to an early lead, thanks to two tries scored by Cadan Murley in the space of nine minutes.

Lennox Anyanwu created an overlap to send the winger through for his first score, before Alex Dombrandt secured a turnover and offloaded to Murley, who skirted over the line for his second.

Tommaso Allan stepped in to replace the unavailable Smith at 10 and showed a clean set of heels to convert both scores and land a long-range penalty soon after, giving the hosts a commanding advantage.

Saracens' rusty start to the game was understandable, given the team had a bye through Round 1, and therefore, had not played a competitive league game for months prior to Saturday.

But after enduring a frustrating opening, the visitors began to click into gear and got their first points on the board when Elliot Daly crashed over in the corner.

The North Londoners doubled their try haul minutes later, when Max Malins dotted down, but the plaudits went to Ben Earl, who brilliantly pierced the Harlequins defense a few phases earlier to help set up the score.

Momentum did not stay with the visitors for long, as intense defensive pressure forced Farrell to scoop the ball into the arms of Dombrandt, who provided another assist, this time setting up Joe Marchant.

The try saw the hosts enter the break with a 24-12 lead, though they were forced to play the remainder of the game without Dombrandt, who limped off injured in the aftermath of Marchant's try.

The pace of the game remained high at the start of the second period, as both teams looked to exploit the other. Saracens struck first, as Malins crossed the whitewash to claim his second of the afternoon.

Harlequins' advantage was reduced even further when Farrell kicked a penalty, limiting the gap to just four points. The penalty also heralded a landmark achievement for the England marksman, who became the latest player to pass 1,500 Premiership points.

Saracens continued to probe, aided by big carries from Billy Vunipola, and edged in front for the first time, with center Nick Tompkins scoring in the 61st minute.

Allan and Daly then exchanged penalties, with the Englishman slotting the crucial kick, which sealed the win for the traveling side.

The result invariably disappointed Harlequins director of rugby Tabai Matson, but he refused to blame the absence of Smith on his side coming up short. 

"All we do is put a plan in, and we get the thumbs up or thumbs down," Matson said. "We have a discussion, and whether we get a thumbs up or thumbs down, they give us a reason. We accept that and move on. We knew it was probably going to create a kerfuffle for our fans and for probably everyone looking in from the outside, but we can only move forward with the group that we have."

By comparison, Saracens boss Mark McCall was pleased with the performances of his England internationals and commended the system put in place to protect the well-being of the nation's biggest rugby assets.

"We chose to start Maro, Billy and Owen, and they were a big part of why we won," McCall said. "Jamie's and Mako's experience coming off the bench at this kind of place is good, but it was a good team performance.

"The process [of selecting England players following international duty] is simple really. There's a 10-week rule in place, and you make an application. Not an application - you write an email. The parties involved are the player - very importantly - the club, Eddie Jones, PRL and the RPA. I think it's a really good process, actually. The decisions are taken in the best interests of the player, and obviously, we're delighted to have our players available."

Written by Stefan Frost