David Strettle took just 53 seconds to remind England boss Martin Johnson of his try-scoring prowess as Harlequins opened their GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP campaign with a victory over big-spending Saracens.
Strettle was dropped from the senior England squad after a difficult summer tour to New Zealand, both on and off the field, but he took less than a minute to make his mark on the new season.
Debutant fly-half Nick Evans kicked 11 points and Strettle’s fellow winger Ugo Monye sauntered over for a second-half try as Quins held off a determined effort from Saracens.
Adam Powell and Neil de Kock ensured the Men in Black remained in touch but their refusal to attempt a late drop goal eventually cost Eddie Jones’ men in a tight Twickenham clash.
Strettle was warned as to his future conduct by the Rugby Football Union after being the subject of a kiss-and-tell story in a red-top Sunday newspaper during England’s ill-fated tour to New Zealand.
His demotion to the Saxons squad was unrelated to that incident and had more to do with the fact that Leicester’s Tom Varndell was seen as a more potent threat out wide for England.
Johnson can make four changes to his squad for the Six Nations and Strettle wasted no time in laying down his claims for a call-up as Quins profited directly from the new Experimental Law Variations to score from a close-range scrum.
With defenders now having to line up five metres behind the hindfoot of the scrum, Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care had plenty of space to attack the blindside and send Strettle over in the right corner.
Saracens’ decision to start with Chris Jack at blindside flanker was experimental and there was little the former All Blacks lock could do against such an incisive attack.
But that opening spark hardly set the tone for a first half of few opportunities, which highlighted how the new ELVs do not guarantee open and exciting rugby.
Evans missed his conversion but Quins retained the lead through to the interval with a penalty from the former All Black in between two successful shots from Saracens’ own New Zealand number 10 Glen Jackson.
Saracens – also fielding big-name debutants Steve Borthwick and Michael Owen – had a golden chance to score shortly before the interval but Jack failed to utilise the overlap inside Quins’ 22 and cut inside, only for his offload to drift forward.
Saracens found the breakthrough they had been threatening four minutes into the second half and took the lead with a illiant 60-metre solo try from Powell.
The England Saxons centre cut through the Quins defensive line inside his own half and then had enough pace to fend off Monye and stretch past Evans to score.
But Saracens’ lead was short-lived. Quins launched a long lineout to Care in midfield and the England scrum-half flicked a clever inside ball to Monye.
The Quins winger still had two defenders to beat but he sauntered over the line, celebrating Usain Bolt-style as he went under the posts.
Evans converted and then pulled Quins clear with a penalty and a drop-goal from in front of the posts.
But Saracens came again. Jack galloped down the right wing, checked his run to draw the cover defence and then slipped a pass to send De Kock in for the try.
Fijian replacement Waisea Luveniyali slotted another penalty which pushed Quins six points clear and, although Jackson responded in kind, Saracens could not manufacture the drop-goal shot and had to settle for a losing bonus point.