Cometh the end of the season, cometh Saracens. The champions burnished their reputation as a team who peak when it matters with this consummately professional victory over Harlequins in front of more than 70,000 fans at Wembley.
The win secured a top-four play-off place, keeping up the pressure on the two teams still above them in the table, Wasps and Exeter, as they battle for home advantage in the Premiership semi-finals. More than that though, it will have fuelled the Saracens players’ self-belief.
Mark McCall’s squad have developed an incredible consistency in these post-Six Nations skirmishes over the past few seasons.
In 2013-14 they lost three matches after the Six Nations ended; a regular season game against Leicester, and then again in the Premiership and European finals against Northampton and Toulon respectively.
In 2014-15 they improved that record, again losing three games but this time winning the Premiership.
Last season Saracens went undefeated in the post-Six Nations period, winning 10 games out of 10 as they wrapped up a domestic-European double.
After this victory over a Harlequins team who are still clinging on to their own hopes of qualifying for the play-off spots, Saracens’ supporters will be dreaming of doing what only Leicester have done before – the ‘double double’ the Tigers achieved when they won back-to-back European Cups and Premiership titles in 2001 and 2002.
Owen Farrell was the chief instrument of victory here, kicking 20 points in a flawless display from the tee as Chris Ashton, Schalk Brits, Michael Rhodes and Alex Goode crossed the whitewash.
Farrell also had a hand in three of those tries, while his fellow England international Maro Itoje produced a huge game in defence, clocking up 20 tackles and missing none.
Quins tried to match Saracens’ physicality, Joe Marler getting involved in a little argy-bargy as the first half turned into a niggly affair. But they lacked Saracens’ ruthlessness in attack and solidity in defence, James Horwill managing a solitary consolation try five minutes from time. Quins’ gaggle of Lions hopefuls, from Jamie Roberts to Danny Care to Chris Robshaw, did little to advance their causes.
Director of rugby John Kingston said he was confident his team could still challenge for a top-six Champions Cup spot. “We’re in a better position for that than we’ve been in the last two or three years; we’ve got two big games coming up so it’s in our control,” he argued.
“We’re at home the next two games and when we’re at home at the Stoop we expect to win. We’ve lost one league game there this year and yes, Exeter Chiefs and Wasps are good sides, but at home with a lot of our big players available – my expectation is that we will win those games.”
As for Saracens there will be harder tests ahead – Munster at the Aviva Stadium in a mouth-watering Champions Cup semi-final a week on Saturday for starters – but this was an ominous display of strength.
The only slight downside from a Saracens and Lions perspective was the removal of Mako Vunipola from the fray just after half time following a “little bang to his knee”.
It remains to be seen how bad the injury is, but McCall played it down afterwards. “I don’t think it’s anything serious at all and we just wanted to be careful with the big game in two weeks’ time,” he said.
“Last week was big for us and to have a six-day turnaround and then to show some of our qualities. . .” McCall added. “Not all of our rugby was perfect but I was pleased with the attacking qualities and the effort, everyone put in a shift.”