Things are suddenly starting to look up again for Harlequins. Having beaten only Worcester – twice – since the end of October they condemned fifth place Saracens to a 15-6 defeat on Sunday.
In contrast, Saracens have had a worrying dip in form. Last week they lost to a late Jonny Wilkinson penalty at Newcastle and here they were unable to find a way back after conceding two first half tries.
Scrum-half Danny Care, the man who has replaced Andy Gomarsall in Dean Richards’ side, was centrally involved in both and gave another impressive man of the match display.
Saracens had suffered a big blow before kick off when goal kicking stand off Glen Jackson, last season’s GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP top scorer, had to drop out.He had passed a fitness test earlier in the day, but had to withdraw from the match after the warm up.
Saracens should have had more to show for early dominance than just a fifth-minute penalty from Jackson’s replacement Gordon Ross and gradually Harlequins worked their way into the game.
A monster clearance by right-wing Tom Williams switched play from one end to the other and although the visitors did not immediately capitalise in winning the lineout against the throw they were rewarded a penalty soon afterwards and Adrian Jarvis’ kick went in off the post to make it 3-3 after 18 minutes.
Buoyed by that – Jarvis missed a host of chances in last week’s win over Worcester – Quins were quickly back on the attack and from a lineout in the 25th minute a massive hole opened up for Care to burst through and his pass inside allowed flanker Chris Robshaw a clear run to the line.
Saracens were inches away from levelling the scores five minutes later. Ross kicked into the corner for All Blacks lock Chris Jack to catch.
Kris Chesney was on hand to take the pass and when the ball fell loose as he was tackled Jack picked up and thought he might have made the line.
It went to the video replay, though, and that showed his leg had slid into touch first.
Despite the heavy rain the game was fast flowing and back came Harlequins to increase their advantage to 15-3 after 33 minutes.
Captain Will Skinner caught his own chip forward and when the ball came back Care’s kick was perfectly weighted for left-wing Ugo Monye to catch and go over. Jarvis added the conversion this time.
With left-wing Francisco Leonelli injured in the move former England back Dan Scarbrough, summoned to the replacements’ bench because of Jackson’s late withdrawal, was on before the interval, his first game for Saracens since September.
Ross reduced the gap to nine points with his second penalty after 49 minutes, but another attempt missed nine minutes later and Harlequins almost stretched their lead when Williams’ cross-field kick just eluded Monye.
That was with 14 minutes left, still plenty of time for Saracens to retrieve the situation.
But they spent most of it trying to fight their way out of defence and Richards had to be thrilled with the performance of a side lacking captain Nick Easter because of his England duties and star wing David Strettle because of injury.
Ross did try one more long range penalty with three minutes remaining, but when that failed Quins could feel confident about the victory.