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Match Report: Saracens 22 Harlequins 12

16 Apr 2016
Match Report: Saracens 22 Harlequins 12

Chris Ashton crossed for a first-half double as Saracens all but secured a home Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final with victory over Harlequins in front of 80,650 spectators at Wembley.

Defeat for Quins effectively ends their chances of making the top four – all their points coming from the boot of Ben Botica.

But it was the razor sharp Ashton – who scored two tries either side of a George Kruis score in the first half – that made the difference.

Man of the match Alex Goode also impressed for Mark McCall’s men who could not find a bonus point fourth try in the second half but stretch their lead at the top of the table to four points.

Quins have met Saracens four times at Wembley and not beaten them there since 2012 but they took the lead on Saturday – Botica slotting over a fifth-minute penalty after the Quins scrum got a nudge on.

Saracens were playing most of the rugby however and they got the game’s first try in the 13th minute as Ashton showed superb work rate to come off his right wing, collect Goode’s flat pass and dive over in the left corner.

Charlie Hodgson – on his 250th career Premiership appearance – missed with the extras and when Botica slotted a second penalty soon after Quins were back in front at 6-5.

Conor O’Shea’s side were winning the battle at the breakdown and scrum time, but unable to turn a number of penalties into any meaningful threat.

Sarries by contrast were ruthless and they grabbed a second try in bizarre style – Danny Care left completely exposed at the back of a ruck on his own try line and his England colleague George Kruis collared him, ripped the ball from his grasp and dived over to score.

Quins – who had lost Tim Visser to a head knock in the first period – trailed 12-6 when Hodgson added the extras.

Botica’s flawless goal-kicking up the other end continued when Michael Rhodes was pinged at the breakdown – his third penalty trimming Sarries lead back to three points.

But before the interval, Sarries struck again and it was that man Ashton. Schalk Brits conjured a fantastic break down the left, and his ball back inside released Ashton who again had come inside looking for work off his right wing.

He strolled over under the posts and when Hodgson added the extras Sarries went in at the break with a 19-9 lead.

The start of the second half needed a Quins response and Botica’s fourth penalty trimmed the lead one more to only seven points.

Goode then needed to be alert to hold off Ross Chisholm in a foot race for a loose ball but Quins kept coming.

Their scrum was still on top and Sarries were forced to replace their whole front row while Owen Farrell was also introduced.

And Mark McCall’s side gradually weathered the storm with the irrepressible Goode carrying and kicking with real invention.

But neither side could conjure another score as the hour mark came and went – a Marland Yarde clean break the closest either side came to a telling intervention.

And in the closing stages Quins replacement Dave Ward was pinged at the breakdown allowing Farrell to slot the penalty and seal victory.

Botica was then off target with the final play of the game with a long-range penalty that would have got Quins a losing bonus point as their focus now turns to their European Challenge Cup semi-final against Grenoble. 

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