Owen Farrell injury scare sours commanding Saracens win

·16-min read
Owen Farrell injury scare sours commanding Saracens win - Shutterstock/Matt Impey
Owen Farrell injury scare sours commanding Saracens win - Shutterstock/Matt Impey

Ben Coles at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Saracens face a nervous wait to see if captain Owen Farrell will be available for their Champions Cup last 16 fixture next Sunday against Ospreys, after the England fly-half limped off in their bonus-point win over Harlequins.

Farrell's leg buckled under Harlequins hooker Sam Riley while attempting to make a tackle, leading to the fly-half being treated and appearing in some discomfort on the field before hobbling off late in the second half.

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Mark McCall, Saracens' director of rugby, revealed the injury was a reaggravation of the ankle issue Farrell suffered before England's game with Ireland to round out the Six Nations. That injury was a grade one sprain, with Farrell going on to play in Dublin, but McCall was unsure whether Farrell's ankle was now worse than that with confirmation expected in the coming days.

The setback marred what was an otherwise highly impressive display from the league leaders, who look well worth their 11-point lead at the top of the Gallagher Premiership table.

Owen Farrell injury scare sours commanding Saracens win - PA/Ben Whitley
Owen Farrell injury scare sours commanding Saracens win - PA/Ben Whitley

Some scorelines can in fact be unflattering because in this kind of form it is hard to see who is going to stop Saracens from lifting the Premiership trophy at Twickenham for the first time in four years when the season wraps. The post-match celebrations might have focused on Saracens securing a home Gallagher Premiership semi-final but to get that far and no further would be catastrophic given the quality they displayed here.

Always relentless and abrasive, now they have an attack which can overpower the very best, even the league's great entertainers in Harlequins. No team this season has beaten more defenders or produced more offloads and how it shows - Saracens began with an offload from Ben Earl to set up Alex Lozowski and three of their five tries feature the kind of quick handling defence coaches hate.

If they want to blame anybody then it is probably Leicester Tigers. Defeat in last season's Premiership final, the manner of it, forced a tactical and philosophical re-think which is now leaving teams shredded. Nothing signals ambition more than Mako Vunipola having to twist his body to deliver a 20-metre pass wide to the wing on his own try line.

"I'll be careful with what I say," McCall responded with a smile when asked whether this was Saracens' attacking peak during his time at the club. "Yeah. I think there's an openness to possibility, to opportunity, which maybe wasn't there before. We have attacked really well in other years and sometimes I don't think we get the credit for how well we attacked in those years, to be honest. But after last year's final, there's a real ambition. Then you have to make good decisions and not be this team who are loose and run all the time. But be a team who are open to what's possible, whatever that might be."

You felt for Tabai Matson, Harlequins' head coach, who was left wondering where the weaknesses are now in Saracens' game, with Cadan Murley's powerful brace of tries and flashes from Alex Dombrandt the highlights of Harlequins' defeat. Down in eighth looking up at the top four, they need more than only try bonus points after winning one of their last eight in the league.

"They are a complete team," Matson conceded. "They have a ruthless mindset around defence and the physical part of the game. They have evolved their game. They score a stack load of tries and it's no surprise they are number one."

Credit has to go to Billy Vunipola, lining up against the player who has taken his England No 8 shirt in Dombrandt and turning in the kind of bullying, relentless performance he can produce at his peak. The berth at the back of England's scrum remains wide open. Here, Vunipola laid down a marker, with McCall full of admiration for his work in recent weeks when all eyes were on the Six Nations.

"I must say, the way he dealt with the disappointment of not being in the Six Nations squad with the other group was unbelievable. He threw himself in, helped the younger players. I couldn't speak more highly of how he was during that period," McCall said.

"He is so determined. He is in great physical condition at the minute, as good as I have seen him to be honest. He had a superb match."

Steve Borthwick was not at Tottenham but when he turns on the tape, the England head coach will no doubt be pleased with what he finds from Vunipola's performance.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 0-5 Dombrandt try, 0-7 Smith con, 5-7 Lozowski try, 7-7 Farrell con, 12-7 Tompkins try, 14-7 Farrell con, 17-7 Farrell pen, 22-7 Christie try, 22-12 Murley try, 22-14 Smith con, 27-14 Maitland try, 29-14 Farrell con, 29-19 Murley try, 34-19 Itoje try, 36-19 Farrell con, 36-24 Marchant try,

Saracens: A Goode; M Malins, A Lozowski, N Tompkins, S Maitland (A Lewington 58); O Farrell (c, D Taylor 69), I van Zyl (A Davies 65); M Vunipola (E Mawi 63), J George (T Dan 74), M Riccioni (A Clarey 65), M Itoje, H Tizard (N Isiekwe 63), A Christie, B Earl (J Wray 74), B Vunipola
Yellow card: A Christie 71

Harlequins: N David; C Murley (O Beard 74), L Northmore, A Esterhuizen, J Marchant; M Smith, D Care; J Marler (F Baxter 74), J Walker (S Riley 68), W Louw (W Collier 68), I Herbst (G Hammond 56), S Lewies, J Kenningham, J Chisholm (W Evans 56), A Dombrandt
Not used: S Steele, T Allan
Yellow cards: D Care 20, L Northmore 63

Referee: L Pearce

Attendance: 55,109

05:50 PM

FULL-TIME: Saracens 36-24 Harlequins

Sarries win a home match for the play-offs and leave Quins' hopes of a play-off place hanging by a thread. That performance was so solid by the hosts, Quins played well but sloppy errors hurt them.

05:49 PM

79 mins: Saracens 36-24 Harlequins

The hosts earn a penalty and decide to kick for the corner. From the resulting line-out they are held up and Tompkins decides enough is enough and ends the match by booting the ball into touch.

05:47 PM

78 mins: Saracens 36-24 Harlequins

Goode misses a penalty from close to in front of the posts - it won't matter though, Sarries have won this game.

05:44 PM

76 mins: Saracens 36-24 Harlequins

Itoje has been great today - many have questioned him during the Six Nations, but he's stood up well today. But BT Sport name Billy Vunipola as the man of the match, he's been at his ball-carrying best.

05:40 PM

TRY FOR HARLEQUINS!!

Saracens 36-24 Harlequins (Marchant)

Scrum for Quins five metres out from the Sarries line. Dombrandt pops the ball out to Care but the hosts' defence is watertight. The visitors are patient, however, and Care then kicks to the corner where Marchant beats Goode to the ball and goes over for the try. Smith misses the conversion and it's 12-point game as Northmore returns to the action.

05:36 PM

69 mins: Saracens 36-19 Harlequins

Owen Farrell has suffered a knock to his ankle and is forced to come off. Taylor comes on for the England skipper.

05:34 PM

66 mins: Saracens 36-19 Harlequins

Nearly a great try from Nick David - the Quins full-back is set up by the quick thinking of Smith and he's away from inside his own half. But a he dives over the line Malins gets in a vital tackle and he knocks on at the vital moment.

05:31 PM

TRY FOR SARACENS!!

Saracens 36-19 Harlequins (Itoje)

The pressure and the extra man tells as they drive into the Quins 22 before Itoje goes over from close range. Farrell adds the extras and you suspect that is game over.

05:29 PM

63 mins: Saracens 29-19 Harlequins

Careless from Northmore, just when his side need 15 men on the pitch he comes in late on Farrell with an arm to the head. He's shown a yellow rather than a red - on another day that could have been another colour.

05:26 PM

TRY FOR HARLEQUINS!!

Saracens 29-19 Harlequins (Murley)

Quins then move the ball to the left flank where Murley scores his second try of the match, beating Malins in the corner. Smith misses the conversion and it's a 10-point game.

05:24 PM

54 mins: Saracens 29-14 Harlequins

Sarries' scrambled defence is outstanding as Smith flings the ball wide to Marchant who is gobbled up by black shirts.

05:22 PM

TRY FOR SARACENS!!

Saracens 29-14 Harlequins (Maitland) 

Great hands, great offloading, great try. The hosts earn the bonus point as Maitland - after great work from Malins, Christie and Vunipola - goes over in the left corner. Farrell adds the extras and the hosts have taken the sting out of Quins' good start to the half.

05:19 PM

54 mins: Saracens 22-14 Harlequins

Tompkins plays a loose pass on halfway and Quins nearly get away. They have the ball and play through the phases but the ball is turned over.

05:15 PM

49 mins: Saracens 22-14 Harlequins

Saracens have sustained possession for the first time this half - they ship the ball right and Malins has a sniff of the try line, but is well tackled.

05:11 PM

47 mins: Saracens 22-14 Harlequins

Quins are playing well - they're in the Sarries 22 as Smith passes to Donbrandt who knocks on. For once Smith played the wrong pass, had he gone over the top Marchant was in.

05:09 PM

45 mins: Saracens 22-14 Harlequins

Quins have started both halves well - they need to maintain their momentum this period.

05:08 PM

TRY FOR HARLEQUINS!!

Saracens 22-14 Harlequins (Murley)

Great defence from Farrell and Vunipola as Quins are held up over the line. From the resulting five-metre scrum, Quins move the ball left and Murley goes over in the corner - vital score from the visitors. Smith adds the extras and it's very much game on.

05:04 PM

40 mins: Saracens 22-7 Harlequins

Back under way in Tottenham - can Quins come back? On the evidence of the first half you'd think it's unlikely.

04:48 PM

HALF-TIME: Saracens 22-7 Harlequins

Saracens are enjoying themselves - they've scored three tries and are well worth their 15-point lead.

04:46 PM

TRY FOR SARACENS!!

Saracens 22-7 Harlequins (Christie)

The hosts drag Quins from one side of the pitch to the other, they have the numbers and the visitors are unable to prevent Christie from going over in the left corner. Farrell misses the conversion but the hosts are well on top in north London. Quins look tired and could do with half-time coming sooner rather than later.

04:43 PM

From Ben Coles at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

04:41 PM

34 mins: Saracens 17-7 Harlequins

After the event-packed opening the match has settled somewhat with both sides shadow boxing.

04:38 PM

32 mins: Saracens 17-7 Harlequins

There's much mirth as the ref, Luke Pearce, is hit by the biggest man on the pitch, Herbst - play is stopped and Pearce is asked whether that was a high tackle!

This is from Chris Archibald, in the stands with Haywards Heath Rugby Club: 'The ref is sent flying - a real crowd pleaser!'

04:36 PM

30 mins: Saracens 17-7 Harlequins

Care is back on and Quins have only conceded three points with the man down - they'll be more than happy with that.

04:34 PM

26 mins: Saracens 17-7 Harlequins

Quins again with the ball in the opposition half - they are flirting with the Sarries 22, but again they lose the ball, Farrell the man with the turnover. The hosts then break on the right with Malins making huge yards before moving the ball infield with Goode before they then lose the ball. Breathtaking stuff.

04:31 PM

23 mins: Saracens 17-7 Harlequins

Quins are in the Sarries half, their moving through the phases, being patient. After nine phases Marchant goes over the gainline but all the good work is undone as the hosts turn the ball over to relieve the pressure.

04:27 PM

PENALTY FOR SARACENS!!

Saracens 17-7 Harlequins

From the resulting penalty Farrell knocks over the points and the hosts now enjoy a 10-point lead with a man advantage.

04:25 PM

20 mins: Saracens 14-7 Harlequins

Care now is sent to the bin - the Quins No 9 killing the ball failry clearly, slapping the ball out of Van Zyl's hands.

04:22 PM

18 mins: Saracens 14-7 Harlequins

Van Zyl chips ahead and is caught by Care - the No 9 is hurt, it's similar to the Steward incident from last week and this time the officials decide it's not foul play 'both players had no time to react' they are heard to say.

04:20 PM

Here's Sarries' opening try

04:18 PM

TRY FOR SARACENS!!

Saracens 14-7 Harlequins (Tompkins)

Lovely score from the hosts. From a line-out they move the ball down the line. It's textbook stuff as every player takes the ball at pace, drawing their man before popping up for a team-mate. Farrell ships the ball to Lozowski who runs a great line before popping left and ultimately Tompkins goes over. Farrell adds the extras and the hosts have their noses in front.

04:12 PM

8 mins: Saracens 7-7 Harlequins

It's been a blistering start in north London the physicality is immense. Vunipola is hit high by Lamb but the ref, Luke Pearce, is happy with it.

04:10 PM

TRY FOR SARACENS!!

Saracens 7-7 Harlequins (Lozowski)

It's the hosts turn to put the pressure on - they're in the Quins 22, from a line-out they move the ball into midfield, Earl offloads brilliantly and Lozowski goes over. Great response from Sarries.

04:08 PM

Ben Coles at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Lively start that for Alex Dombrandt - copping a big hit on the kick-off from Andy Christie and then having to stop a full-speed Billy Vunipola, before stepping inside Jamie George to score the opening try. Feels like a big game for the England No 8 after the end to his Six Nations.

04:05 PM

TRY FOR QUINS!!

Saracens 0-7 Harlequins (Donbrandt)

Early pressure from Quins as they're in the Sarries 22 and earn a penalty. They tap and go, move the ball out right and the No 8 goes over from short range. Smith kicks the conversion and it's a great start for the visitors.

04:02 PM

1 min: Saracens 0-0 Harlequins

They're under way in north London, there's no love lost between this pair and we should be in for a cracking contest.

03:58 PM

The teams are out on the pitch

And we're moments away from kick off.

03:48 PM

Here are the teams in old-fashioned black and white

SARACENS XV TO FACE HARLEQUINS: Goode, Malins, Lozowski, Tompkins, Maitland, Farrell, van Zyl, M. Vunipola, George, Riccioni, Itoje, Tizard, Christie, Earl, B. Vunipola.

Replacements: Dan, Mawi, Clarey, Isiekwe, Wray, Davies, Taylor, Lewington.

HARLEQUINS XV TO FACE SARACENS: David, Marchant, Northmore, Esterhuizen, Murley, M. Smith, Care, Marler, Walker, Louw, Herbst, Lewies, Kenningham, J. Chisholm, Dombrandt.

Replacements: Riley, Baxter, Collier, Lamb, Evans, Steele, Allan, Beard.

03:46 PM

Here be Harlequins

03:46 PM

Here's the Saracens XV

03:34 PM

Farrell vs Smith

Saracens vs Harlequins at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium means another big stage for Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith to display their credentials to be England's No. 10.

The pair took turns to be fly-half during England's patchy (at best) Six Nations campaign with the debate far from concluded after the defeat to Ireland last week. Following the humiliation at the hands of France the week before, Farrell got the nod to start at 10 in Dublin, but there's still a lack of clarity about who will be the national side's playmaker heading into the World Cup. Today's London derby, if nothing else, provides yet another point of argument to add to the debate.

The hosts head into the clash top of the table, guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The visitors need a win to keep up their chances of extending their season. And Farrell is ready for what should be a tight and raucous contest

“This is always one of the best days in the calendar and we cannot wait to run out in such an incredible stadium for what is a massive game," the Saracens fly-half said.

"The atmosphere here last season was amazing and I know the club work very hard to put on a show for everyone.

"It is great to be back in with all of the lads and we’re all really excited to keep pushing forward over the next few months with so much at stake.”

This is the first outing in a Quins shirt for Smith since he produced a remarkable performance in a 40-5 victory over Exeter Chiefs. The 24-year-old set up two tries during the brilliant display at Twickenham.

Regardless of the Farrell-Smith subplot this is, if nothing else, a big clash between two of the domestic game's heavyweights and Harlequins head coach Tabai Matson cannot wait.

“It’s the rivalries in sport that take teams to other levels. We’re both London clubs, we play contrasting styles and there’s obviously players competing for international positions, but it all just adds to the showdown," he said.

Stay here for the build up and all action with kick off set for 3pm.