Scrum-half Danny Care did his best to show England manager Martin Johnson why he should keep faith with him by serving up a match-winning performance for Harlequins.
Care, under pressure for his England place after being sin-binned when he came off the bench against Ireland last week, provided the spark which led to Quins’ first try for prop Ceri Jones and scored a brilliant second to seal victory.
Fly-half Nick Evans added three penalties and a conversion despite not having his best day with the boot, missing three penalty attempts and the second conversion. But livewire Care had the final say, grabbing the ball from the back of a ruck and bursting down the left touchline to score in the corner.
Saracens, still battling despite the announcements that director of rugby Eddie Jones and 15 players will be leaving at the end of the season, replied with tries from flanker Wilkus van Heerden and winger Richard Haughton. Fly-half Glen Jackson, the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP’s leading points scorer, took his tally for the season to 201 with a penalty and a conversion as his side pushed Quins all the way.
Saracens, beaten 24-21 by Quins on the opening day of the season in the Twickenham London double-header, led 10-3 midway through the first half. Jackson missed an easy third-minute penalty before Evans opened the scoring with a 12th-minute penalty after the visitors were penalised at a scrum.
Jackson levelled up in the 21st minute and Saracens went ahead in the 27th minute with a try by South African flanker Van Heerden. They had repelled a series of Quins attacks in which wingers David Strettle and Ugo Monye, both looking to win their way back into the England team, were prominent.
Strettle, recently returned from three months on the sidelines following surgery on his foot, beat Noah Cato, Saracens’ England Under-20 left wing, on a run down the touchline before being tackled by the cover. Then Monye, restricted to Martin Johnson’s replacements’ bench after missing the start of the RBS 6 Nations with a back injury, produced two powerful runs down the left.
Saracens retaliated with an inventive try. Cato, taking a pass from his centre partner Adam Powell, was brought down just short of the line by the combined efforts of Quins number eight Tom Guest and Strettle.
After Harlequins infringed as the piled into the ruck, Saracens scrum-half Justin Marshall took a quick tap penalty and prop Matius Aguero was held up as he drove for the line before Van Heerden powered over. Jackson converted to become the first Premiership player to pass 200 points for the season.
Evans cut the deficit to four points with a 29th-minute penalty and then Care produced a quick-thinking piece of brilliance to set up the try which took Harlequins into the lead. Taking a tap penalty, he jinked through the defence to set up a move which ended with South African hooker Gary Botha providing the final pass for Welsh prop Jones to stretch over the line and touch down one-handed as he was tackled.
Evans added the conversion but missed his second first-half penalty from comfortable range two minutes before the interval. He made amends by landing a much more difficult penalty seven minutes into the second half to extend the home side’s lead to 16-10, as they sought to defend a record which shows them unbeaten at home in the Premiership since early September.
Evans, increasingly orchestrating the Harlequins attacks, sent Monye charging for the line but the winger lost the ball in the tackle and number eight Ben Skirving put Saracens back on the attack with a near 70-metre charge down the left touchline. Then the fly-half provided a teasing crossfield kick for Strettle who was well tackled by Jackson.
Saracens hit back with a superb try of their own when young full-back Alex Goode, who had shaken off a heavy knock sustained in a tackle minutes earlier, released Haughton and the winger tore through the home defence. But Jackson missed the conversion opportunity, failing to gather the points which would have put Saracens ahead, before Care conjured up Harlequins’ second try.