Conor O’Shea is relishing the determination his side are showing at the moment after a gritty comeback saw Harlequins inflict a first defeat of the season on 14-man Saracens.
The hosts, who are now unbeaten in four league matches, somehow found themselves ahead at the interval when Rob Buchanan and Jack Clifford cancelled out Neil de Kock and Billy Vunipola's efforts, despite Sarries dominating the opening stages.
Owen Farrell put the visitors back into the lead from the tee, but after replacement Rhys Gill saw red for a dangerous tackle on George Lowe the tables were turned and three Ben Botica penalties and James Horwill’s late try clinched a 29-23 win.
It was a first defeat in 15 games for Saracens and only Quins’ second victory in their last 15 matches against the league leaders, and O’Shea put it down to a battling performance.
“What a game of rugby that was,” he said. “It’s what the Aviva Premiership Rugby is all about; the Stoop was rocking.
“It’s only game nine but I just love the bite that was out there tonight. We said we wanted to be physical, but we were also enterprising.
“Obviously the huge turning point in terms of giving us the absolute foothold was Rhys’ sending off, but don’t think you can argue with that.
“I’m thankful that George Lowe wasn’t injured because we all know what he has gone through the last two to three years, but otherwise it was a great game of rugby between two teams who will be fighting hopefully towards the end of the year.
“Hopefully it gives Nick Easter a little lift because he’s had some personal problems of late, and he sent out a text saying we could win before the game, which means a lot to the players.”
Meanwhile, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall admitted his below-par Saracens side were not worthy of victory at the Stoop.
The visitors will stay top of the Aviva Premiership despite the loss, but both Quins and Exeter Chiefs closed the gap at the top of the table with their victories, and McCall is calling on his side to show some resolve after their first setback of the season.
He said: “I thought our set-piece dominated the first 20 minutes or so, but we gave away an unbelievably soft try. That was just a switch off moment by one person in the lineout that went on for five points.
“But just in general I don’t think we deserved to win. I think our discipline was not good enough and I think they won the scraps.
“They were really up for it and with all those fifty-fifty battles which we are pretty good at usually, we weren’t so good at today.
“So it’s disappointing to lose because for those reasons but we have to move on. This group in the past has shown it is pretty good at dealing with the odd set back here and there.
“We have a pretty big game to get our teeth into against Ulster and we can’t feel sorry ourselves, get stuck into the week and that’s all.”
Harlequins 29 Saracens 23
Harlequins: Brown, Yarde, Lowe, Roberts, Chisholm, Evans (Botica 53), Care, Marler, Buchanan (Ward 62), Jones, Horwill, Matthews, Robshaw, Wallace, Clifford
Replacements not used: Adeniran-Olule, Gray, Sloan, Dickson, Walker
Saracens: Goode, Ashton, Bosch (Hodgson 75), Taylor (Tompkins 27), Ellery, Farrell, de Kock (Wigglesworth 51), M Vunipola (Gill 62), George, Du Plessis (Lamositele 75), Hamilton, Kruis (Itoje 2), Wray, Fraser (Burger 54), B Vunipola
Replacements not used: Saunders
Tries: Buchanan, Clifford, Horwill
Penalties: Evans, Botica 3
Tries: de Kock, B Vunipola
Penalties: Farrell 3
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
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