Premiership: Saracens show class to beat Harlequins in London derby and secure home semi-final
Saracens made sure of a home semi-final in the Premiership play-offs after they defeated London rivals Harlequins 36-24 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Although Tabai Matson’s men battled throughout, Sarries were simply a class above and went into the break 22-7 ahead through Alex Lozowski, Nick Tompkins and Andy Christie tries.
Cadan Murley’s brace after the interval – to go with Alex Dombrandt’s second minute effort – gave Quins hope, but the hosts sealed the win as Sean Maitland and Maro Itoje went over.
As a result, Saracens made sure of a home match in the Premiership’s knockout stages with three rounds to spare.
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Billy Vunipola took man of the match honours and he put England’s number eight for the Six Nations, Dombrandt, in the shade in front of 55,109 fans in north London.
Inside 90 seconds Dombrandt peeled himself off the floor having been hammered backwards catching the kick-off and sold a dummy to score the opening try as Quins capitalised on a turnover.
The tide quickly turned as Saracens hammered away using their pack and the breakthrough came when Ben Earl offloaded for Lozowski to score under the posts.
Lozowski played a key role in his side’s second try with Owen Farrell also heavily involved as Tompkins went over, finishing some slick interchange made possible by the forwards getting on top once more.
Danny Care was sin-binned for interfering at the ruck and once Farrell had kicked the penalty Saracens led 17-7.
Smith filled in for Care at scrum-half and in an unexpected twist Quins seized control by keeping play tight, at least until they attempted an ill-advised offload under the posts to invite a high speed counter-attack from Max Malins.
Andre Esterhuizen skittled Farrell backwards but a promising attack broke down and Saracens’ response was ruthless with Vunipola and Malins involved before Lozowski and Tompkins combined to send Christie over.
Knowing they were in danger of being swept away, Quins responded soon after the break when a long Marcus Smith flat pass enabled Murley to ride a tackle from Malins and touch down.
A spell of sustained Saracens pressure ended with Christie cleverly passing out of the tackle as Maitland clinched the bonus point, seemly ending the visitors’ uprising.
But Quins refused to throw in the towel and when Esterhuizen threw a long pass to Murley the wing had the strength to run over Malins and score, once again exposing his opposite number’s vulnerability in defence.
Centre Luke Northmore was sent to the sin-bin for catching Farrell in the throat as he tried to charge down a kick and in the next play Saracens drove over through their line-out in a try for Itoje.
A brilliant finish by Joe Marchant kept Quins in the hunt but the hosts finished strongly to complete an emphatic win that sealed their place at the summit of the Premiership.
London Irish replace Northampton Saints in top-four
London Irish launched themselves into a play-off spot with a flair-filled showing as they overcame fellow post-season hopefuls Northampton 37-22 at the Gtech Community Stadium.
Scores from So’otala Fa’aso’o and Tom Pearson alongside the boot of Paddy Jackson gave the hosts a seven-point lead at the interval, with Saints responding through a Fin Smith penalty and a Juarno Augustus try.
The Exiles kept their foot on the gas after half-time, with Ben Loader and Chunya Munga’s tries securing the bonus point, while Jackson also added a long-range drop goal to the highlight reel.
While Saints played their part with scores from Tommy Freeman and captain Lewis Ludlam, the visitors were overwhelmed by a perfectly executed game plan from Irish.
The Exiles, donning St Patrick’s Day celebration kits brimming with three-leaf clovers, were first on the scoreboard as Fa’aso’o drove over from short range after a collection of gut-busting carries from their big men.
Saints grabbed some points of their own via Smith’s boot, slotting the ball over for three points after an Irish infringement at the 10-metre line.
The hosts scored their second with an extraordinary effort from Pearson, who fended, ducked and weaved past five defenders on his way to the try-line as the lively stadium erupted.
Augustus bulldozed over Jackson to get the visitors across the whitewash for the first time in the game, but Freeman’s cynical deliberate knock-on shortly afterwards earned the England international a spell in the sin bin, placing the game back into the hands of Declan Kidney’s men.
Jackson added three points to the total just prior to the half-time whistle, extending the hosts’ lead to seven points.
Irish were quick out the blocks after the interval as Fa’aso’o dislodged the ball from Fraser Dingwall’s grip, allowing it to be regathered and passed into the hands of Loader who outpaced defenders to the try-line.
Freeman made amends for his error with a brilliant score, catching Irish’s breakdown guards napping as he picked and went into open grass before spying the perfect angle to hare his way past last man Loader for the try.
But Saints were not in control for long as Munga spotted a gap and successfully lunged for the line from centimetres away.
Jackson treated the Irish faithful to a perfectly executed drop goal metres inside the Saints half soon after.
The visitors responded moments later as Ludlam found a gap in the defensive line to score but Jackson rounded off victory with one final penalty.
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