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Match Reaction: Saracens 40 Harlequins 19

Aviva Premiership Rugby champions Saracens sent out an ominous message to their rivals on Derby Day, and director of rugby Mark McCall insists the club are right where they need to be after a powerful bonus-point victory over Harlequins at Wembley.

The North London outfit booked an Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final spot and kept up the pressure on second-placed Exeter Chiefs in the battle for a home fixture with the 40-19 win.

Sarries have now only lost once in ten games at Wembley Stadium and looked in control for large periods – Chris Ashton scored his fifth try in four league matches, and Springbok hooker Schalk Brits also went over in the first half to give them a 17-9 lead at the break.

But it was the defensive effort that pleased McCall most, and he singled out his players’ fighting spirit approaching the business end of the season.

“It was a hugely pleasing performance, we’re going big game after big game and last week was huge for us,” he said. “We had a six-day turnaround and to show some of the qualities that we showed today was great.

“Not all of our rugby was perfect but the fighting qualities, the effort that everyone put in, the shift they put in, it was a huge defensive effort particularly in the second half.

“I thought in the first half we had a lot more control but in the second half we did a lot of defending, a lot of time without the ball and the players were magnificent.

“The first seven months are about getting to this position, getting into a strong position in both of the competitions that we’re interested in and thankfully we managed to win a quarter-final of the champions cup last week.

“We’re in a decent position entering these last two months in Aviva Premiership Rugby, there’s a lot of things to be excited about now.”

Quins kept the scoreboard ticking over through the boot of Nick Evans but Michael Rhodes broke away to notch Sarries third, before ex-Australia captain James Horwill responded from two metres out.

Owen Farrell delivered a flawless kicking display all afternoon to boost the hosts’ lead, and with two minutes left on the clock, Alex Goode went over for the all-important bonus-point try.

Director of rugby John Kingston lamented Harlequins’ mistakes, but is still adamant that his side are in a great position to achieve their target of a top-six Aviva Premiership Rugby finish.

He said: “I said several weeks ago that the big thing for me is to try and get into the Champions Cup, however I am aware of the Bath Rugby v Leicester Tigers result and we’re still only five points from fourth.

“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.

“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.”

Saracens: Goode; Ashton (Tompkins 65), Taylor, Barritt (c) (Lozowski 72), Maitland (Flanagan 75); Farrell, Spencer (Wigglesworth 51); M Vunipola (Lamositele 46), Brits (George 54), Koch (Du Plessis 59), Itoje, Hamilton (Conlon 23), Rhodes, Wray, B Vunipola.

Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Marchant, Roberts, Visser (Alofa 65); Evans (Swiel 74), Care (capt)(Mulchrone 74); Marler (Lambert 65), Buchanan (Gray 56), Collier (Sinckler 56), Merrick (Matthews 56), Horwill, Robshaw, Clifford (Ward 5), Luamanu.

Saracens 40

Tries: Ashton, Brits, Rhodes, Goode

Conversions: Farrell 4

Penalties: Farrell 4

Harlequins 19

Tries: Horwill

Conversions: Swiel

Penalties: Evans 4

Referee: Ian Tempest

Attendance: 71,324

Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 27 May at Twickenham are now on sale. If you want to have an unforgettable day out at club rugby’s best Cup Final then click here for tickets.

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