Defending Aviva Premiership Rugby champions Saracens kept up the pressure on Exeter Chiefs and Wasps in the hunt for a home semi-final, with a dominant 40-19 win over London rivals Harlequins at Wembley Stadium.
Harlequins, the away side in the ‘Derby Day’ fixture, opened the scoring but Saracens soon surged ahead with tries from flying winger Chris Ashton and the fleet-footed Schalk Brits to lead 17-9 advantage at the break.
Michael Rhodes went 30 metres to get the hosts’ third, and while Quins fought back through the boot of Nick Evans and James Horwill’s score, Alex Goode had the final say to secure the crucial bonus point and dent the south-west Londoners’ hopes of making the top four.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) April 8, 2017
England’s Owen Farrell was flawless from the tee, notching up 20 points, and the ‘Derby Day’ triumph also means that Sarries confirm their place alongside Wasps and Exeter in the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals.
The sixth Wembley encounter between the London rivals started with both sides trying to establish territory through the boot.
With just five minutes played Quins were unlucky to lose Jack Clifford with a head injury, and Dave Ward replaced the England back-rower.
Former All Black fly-half Evans struck the first points of the afternoon with twelve minutes played, slotting a penalty from 28 metres out.
Sarries were soon putting on the pressure and were rewarded in the 17th minute – Alex Goode deftly grubbering the ball into the corner for Chris Ashton to touch down his sixth try at Wembley.
Three minutes later Farrell kicked to the corner from a scrum penalty, Sarries took a catch-and-drive, but the Quins defence held firm and turned the ball over after nine phases.
Ashton sent a neat chip back into the corner and from the next passage of play South African hooker Schalk Brits was able to burrow over from ten metres out.
In response Quins kept the tempo high and a penalty conceded by Maro Itoje for not releasing gave Evans the chance to get an easy three points back.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) April 8, 2017
Evans further reduced the deficit to 14-9 before Quins were handed a reprieve when Chris Ashton dropped the crucial pass after an excellent break from substitute Joel Conlon.
Farrell struck back with a penalty to send the sides in at half-time 17-9.
Farrell extended that lead two minutes into the second half with a long-range penalty but Evans responded with his fourth of the afternoon.
John Kingston then rang the changes in an attempt to wrestle back control; gaps in both defences were proving rare though and a third penalty from Farrell kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Quins threatened with Marland Yarde’s searing break down the left to gain them valuable territory, but Farrell kept pinning the visitors back with typical Sarries accuracy.
Things looked ominous for the visitors when Farrell sailed another penalty over from 46 metres out with only 11 minutes left on the clock.
📷 Match shot | James Horwill on the move at Wembley pic.twitter.com/ldGNGMr8Vw
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) April 8, 2017
Lions contender Mike Brown almost got Harlequins back into the game but chipped slightly too long, and in a cruel sting Sarries went down the other end and scored their third try through Michael Rhodes.
James Horwill butchered his way over to get a consolation for Quins, but Sarries soon had their fourth try when Goode touched down with only two minutes left to play.
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