Harlequins fightback not enough to deny Sarries

Saracens 38 Harlequins 24

Harlequins’ spirited second half performance brought them three tries, but it was not enough to earn them any points at Allianz Park.

Paul Lasike came off the bench to notch two tries during a gutsy fightback, but the damage done in the first half – when Saracens built up a 19-pont lead, was too much to recover.

Quins were up against it almost immediately, when Sean Maitland scampered over in the corner for Sarries. The winger had paved the way for the try by catching a flighted kick from Owen Farrell and earning a penalty that was punched into scoring range.

Farrell extended the lead with another penalty from range, yet Harlequins rallied well, threatening the home side’s line and only a knock-on denied them the chance to close the gap more than by the three points they gained from a Marcus Smith drop goal.

But two converted tries made it 22-3 to Sarries at half-time, offering little realistic prospect of any points for Paul Gustard’s men.

First, a burst from prop Sam Crean, supported by Billy Vunipola, ended with Maro Itoje touching down and then Aled Davies added a close-range score just before the break.

England star Farrell, back from a thigh strain, was making his 200th appearance for the club and he was always going to be in the points. He added two penalties at the start of the second half before Quins responded with a try from Lasike to bring it back to 28-10.

Another home penalty kept Quins well out of reach with only a slight puncher’s chance of clawing their way back, even if another man off the bench, Scott Steele, was able to burrow over and Lasike dashed over to bring the gap briefly back to seven points.

Almost immediately after Lasike’s second touchdown, Alex Lewington raced away to bury those briefly revived hopes.

This was Quins’ last league fixture at Allianz Park for a while – the north London club having been condemned to play in the Championship next year because of salary cap breaches.

The table had Sarries bottom of the Gallagher Premiership on –62 points at kick-off, because of the points penalty imposed for the financial irregularities, but of course no-one would be fooled by that. The European champions are an outfit chock full of internationals and now boast a 10-5 win-loss record. In normal circumstances, they would be very much in the mix.

Quins began post-lockdown with a 16-10 victory over Sale Sharks at the Stoop, but their 6-8 record underlines there is much to be done to have a chance of reaching the play-offs.

At least skipper Chris Robshaw, now in the twilight of his career, seems to have the drive to inspire his team to one last effort to turn a hitherto mediocre season into something more memorable.

This was arguably their toughest remaining assignment and they at least showed an appetite for the fray and their loud cheers after securing turnovers pointed to sound morale. They also outscored their hosts in the second half, winning the try-count 3-1.

Although this is part of the delayed old season, there is almost a new-season feel to it, with Kyle Sinckler no longer in the fold and back row Jack Clifford having sadly announced a premature retirement from the game at the age of 27 because of the lasting effects of shoulder surgery.

The hope is that the west Londoners will seize the moment to make these final weeks count. Their seven remaining fixtures include a visit to Worcester on Wednesday and a home match against Northampton on Sunday before September clashes with Bath (home), London Irish (away), Gloucester (away) and finally Wasps (home).

Quins: Brown, Morris, Marchant, Lang, Earle, Smith, Landajo, Marler, Baldwin, Kerrod, Lewies, Symons, Chisholm, Robshaw, Dombrandt. Replacements: Gray, Garcia Botta, Collier, Lamb, Lawday, Evans, Steele, Lasike