The much-maligned Wembley pitch passed its latest examination with flying colours as Saracens put London rivals Harlequins to the sword by 37-18.
Last weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals saw the controversial surface, which has been relaid 10 times since the stadium reopened in 2007, come under renewed scrutiny. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was the most vocal in his criticism, branding the pitch a "disgrace", after players had repeatedly lost their footing.
But this afternoon’s late kick-off in the Guinness Premiership passed without incident as dynamic hooker Schalk Brits inspired Saracens to a five-try victory. The rampaging South African played a decisive role in both of openside Andy Saull’s two first-half tries and then helped himself to his team’s third in the 50th minute.
Winger Michael Tagicakibau and number eight Ernst Joubert completed the rout before a 47,106 crowd – the highest attendance of Saracens’ four matches at Wembley this season. The bonus-point victory strengthens the title-chasers’ position in the top four, while shambolic Quins will be wondering where they go from here.
Abysmal defending made it far too easy for Saracens to breach their line, the only highlight being the late flurry that saw Ugo Monye and Chris York cross when the outcome had already been decided. Quins were hardly helped by the withdrawal of their All Black fly-half Nick Evans shortly before kick-off because of a hamstring injury.
Rory Clegg was promoted from the bench to fill the breach and his first significant involvement was to send a tricky penalty wide of the left upright. His sights adjusted, he was more accurate with a second attempt and by the end of the first quarter Saracens had raced 15-3 ahead largely thanks to two tries in two minutes from Saull.
Man-of-the-match Brits had a crucial role to play in both, producing a delicate offload in the tackle to Joubert to initiate the first. Joubert roamed forward, committed full-back Mike Brown and then sent back-row colleague Saull galloping over. The launchpad for the second also came from Brits who broke free from the restart before feeding Justin Marshall, who found Saull on his shoulder for the scoring pass.
Derick Hougaard landed one of the conversions to add to an earlier penalty with Quins seemingly in disarray. But they responded magnificently when Chris Brooker leaped over a breakdown and across the whitewash from close range after Jordan Turner-Hall and Tom Guest had made inroads.
A second penalty from Hougaard restored Saracens’ 15-point cushion, a lead they took into half-time after surviving two five-metre scrums. Brits’ dazzling afternoon continued when he raced in for Saracens’ third after Alex Goode and Marshall had created openings.
Once again Quins’ defence was at fault, however, as no one was stationed on the blindside to prevent Brits from completing a simple run to the line. Substitute Glen Jackson converted and Quins’ problems deepened when Brown was sin-binned for a succession of professional fouls.
The TMO denied Jacques Burger a ‘try’ as Saracens cranked up the pressure but the next score came a heartbeat later when Tagicakibau sauntered through the opposition backline. Worse was to come for Quins’ traumatised defence, Joubert pouncing on a loose pass from Turner-Hall for an easy intercept with Jackson converting.
Monye showed strength to touch down with three minutes left before York crossed in the dying seconds, ensuring a final scoreline that was kind to Quins.