It may have attracted the biggest crowd of a record-breaking weekend for Premiership attendances – more than 70,000 turned out to watch this Easter parade – but as is often the case with England’s football matches at Wembley, it all felt a little flat.
A gloriously sunny afternoon at the home of football turned into something of a procession for Mark McCall’s uber-professional team who wrapped up a bonus-point win with a few minutes left on the clock to keep up the pressure on Wasps and Exeter in the battle to secure a home play-off.
The game had been billed as an opportunity for fringe Lions to assert their credentials but the likes of Jamie Roberts, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw – to name but three Quins’ hopefuls– had quiet games.
Mind you, even certain Lions tourists like Billy and Mako Vunipola – who left the field after 44 minutes having started the game with a heavily strapped knee – had quiet games. Saracens were just too strong, too clinical. And Owen Farrell too accurate. The England fly-half finished with eight from eight from the tee in a typically-assured display that also saw him provide a beautiful, delayed pass to help set up Saracens’ final try for Alex Goode.
Saracens led 17-9 at the break courtesy of first-half tries from Chris Ashton and Schalk Brits. And the champions were good value for that lead despite a promising start from Quins, which saw Mike Brown heavily involved.
Brown took a superb high ball in the first minute of the match and looked strong with ball in hand. The England full-back, though, was caught on his heels for Ashton’s try when Goode’s grubber kick forced him to turn back towards his own try line and he was outpaced by his erstwhile England team mate.
Ashton – who continues to insist that he is not thinking about the Lions, despite a rich vein of try-scoring form - should have had a second a few minutes later but dropped Goode’s pass with the try-line begging. Brits, meanwhile, finished off a trademark Saracens driving maul as his side turned the screw.
Having watched Bath beat Leicester in dramatic fashion earlier in the day, Quins knew heading into the game that the battle for that fourth play-off spot was still very much alive.
Jack Clifford’s early departure after his head collided with Brad Barritt’s shoulder robbed them of their first-choice openside and a bit of their early momentum. But they battled gamely; Joe Marler’s slap on Michael Rhodes one of a number of niggly confrontations as they tried to match Saracens’ physicality.
Three Nick Evans penalties kept them within touching distance at half-time.
Even without being at their best, though, Saracens won with something to spare. Farrell kept the scoreboard ticking over, while Rhodes added a third try with 10 minutes remaining, capping a fine game by streaking through a gap on the left wing after Saracens had worked the ball wide from Maro Itoje’s line-out steal.
After James Horwill pulled one back for Quins, muscling his way over the line from close range, Goode wrapped up the win and the bonus point, atoning for an earlier fumble.
“Very satisfied,” was McCall’s verdict, as he looked ahead to the huge Champions Cup semi-final at Munster in two weeks’ time.
“The first seven months of the season are about getting into this position. Thankfully, we managed to win a quarter-final in the Champions Cup last weekend and there are a lot of things to be excited about now.”
SaracensA Goode; C Ashton (N Tompkins 64), D Taylor, B Barritt (A Lozowski 71), S Maitland (M Flanagan 73); O Farrell, B Spencer (R Wigglesworth 50); M Vunipola (T Lamositele 45), S Brits (J George 53), V Koch (P Du Plessis 58), M Itoje, J Hamilton (J Conlon 22), M Rhodes, J Wray, B Vunipola.
Harlequins M Brown; M Yarde, J Marchant, J Roberts, T Visser (A Alofa 64); N Evans (T Swiel 73), D Care (C Mulchrone 73); J Marler (M Lambert 64), R Buchanan (J Gray 55), W Collier (K Sinckler 55), G Merrick (C Matthews 55), J Horwill, C Robshaw, J Clifford (D Ward 3), M Luamanu.
Referee I Tempest (RFU).
Attendance 71, 324
Scores 0-3 Evans pen; 5-3 Ashton try; 7-3 Farrell con; 12-3 Brits try; 14-3 Farrell con; 14-6 Evans pen; 14-9 Evans pen; 17-9 Farrell pen; 20-9 Farrell pen; 20-12 Evans pen; 23-12 Farrell pen; 26-12 Farrell pen; 31-12 Rhodes try; 33-12 Farrell con; 33-17 Horwill try; 33-19 Evans con; 38-19 Goode try; 40-19 Farrell con.