Premiership: Five takeaways from Saracens’ semi-final win over London rivals Harlequins

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Following a 34-17 victory for Saracens over Harlequins in their Premiership semi-final, here’s our five takeaways from the match at the StoneX Stadium on Saturday.

Dishonest scoreline

Make no mistake, this was a glorious semi-final, one that saw the champions Harlequins finally come to the end of their reign as the power and intellect of Saracens, combined with the substantial advantage of playing at home, came to the fore.  The scoreline may suggest a comfortable win, but it was anything but that for the Men in Black, as a litany of yellow cards saw them play the majority of the second half with 14 (and sometimes 13) players due to the immense pressure the proud Quins placed upon them.

Two scores either side of half-time, one by Nick Tompkins and another by Ben Earl, simply changed the course of this encounter. The best teams hit hard when it matters and the double blow that straddled the interval were enough to put the champions on the floor. Nevertheless, this was a match played at a breathless pace, with thrilling commitment and, at times, wonderful execution – it was a great shame that there could only be one winner.

Early heat

This game was gripping from the very first moment until the last. The agile welterweights of Quins versus the powerful heavyweights of Saracens provided all who watched with one of the contests of the season. With Saracens’ primary defence in imperious form, it took all of Harlequins’ inventiveness to cross for one close range try followed by a sumptuous piece of interchange in midfield to see Marcus Smith combine with Danny Care to send the impish scrum-half flying over.

With Joe Marler and Will Collier exerting huge pressure on two World Cup final props in Vincent Koch and Mako Vunipola, Quins started powerfully and only superb defence, led by the Premiership player of the season Earl, and the cool head of Owen Farrell kept Saracens within touching distance. Both players struck before half-time with Earl scrambling through the defence of Joe Marler to slide over which was shortly followed by a piece of offloading by Farrell to Tompkins that reminded us that the old man of Sarries is still a magnificently skilled exponent of fly-half play.

Earl of the manor

Player of the match Earl may have been discarded by England for the time being, but his form for Saracens has been absolutely compelling. His hat-trick secured his award, but even without his tries he was one of the best players on the pitch. Eddie Jones has mentioned that he wanted to see more physicality from the openside and today he provided that in reams – his tackle on the line against Andre Esterhuizen was in danger of causing seismic tremors in North London, such was the power of the collision.

This was a game where the battle of the back-rows was always a key focus and with Billy Vunipola back to his barrelling best, augmented by the athletic brilliance of Theo McFarland, Saracens’ trio delivered a compelling display. Make no mistake, Earl is back with a bang and given his versatility, it’s odds-on he’ll be recalled by England for their Australian trip in July.

Farrell and Smith

There’s a public perception that Farrell doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves when playing at 10, but if Smith had delivered the offload that the Sarries skipper managed to Tompkins then the watching fans would have been eulogising for a month. The iron man of England’s midfield delivered one of his most compelling and effective performances in recent times, as he fused pinpoint passing with intelligent kicking to produce a commanding display that probably just edged the fly-half head-to-head.

However, that’s not to denude Smith, who was at times quite brilliant. His running and attacking threat is crystal clear for all to see and given Farrell’s ability to play at 12, England are fortunate to have two outstanding midfield generals to run their backline into the 2022/23 season and beyond.

What next?

This might be the end of the road for Harlequins as champions but they leave their podium with pride and pedigree. They’ve delighted all that have watched them and, most importantly, have developed a clear DNA of their rugby which rewards their fans and thrills the neutrals. With one of the best scrums in the Premiership, they’ll be back and they will challenge hard again next season – but for now their race is run.

Saracens are in the final; a journey from the Championship to Twickenham in 12 months that has put two fingers up to anyone that doubted their integrity or desire. It’s no coincidence that their team are littered with champions, whether it be world, European or domestic. With such resource and so many reference points of winning knockout matches, it’s no surprise that they overcame a great Harlequins performance.

For Saracens, second place just isn’t part of that aforementioned DNA. You can bet your bottom dollar that they won’t celebrate, they won’t be pleased and they won’t rest – not until they once again become the Premiership champions and regain the crown they wore with such pride for so many years.

READ MORE: Premiership: Saracens oust defending champions Quins in feisty semi-final

The article Premiership: Five takeaways from Saracens’ semi-final win over London rivals Harlequins appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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