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By Innings
December 3 2017

All through today, except for one ten-minute interlude, I have been uneasily sure that If Sarries could find a way to lose today, they would do so.  I have been unfortunate to be at three of the last four games, when Sarries have lost to sides that normally they’d expect to put away on the day, but at each one there seemed to be an excess of what the sergeant instructors at Sandhurst used to call ‘Heads off, Cabbages on.’  

I was not confident arriving at the Stoop, not confident when I broke my glasses before kickoff, and not confident when I watched some very unstructured and lacklustre warm-up drills by Sarries.
Let’s get through the ten minutes when I waivered into thinking we might win.  For the first ten minutes, Quins were absent, and when Koch made like Moses, the waters did indeed part for him, giving Barritt the easiest walk-in try almost under the posts, with fewer than two minutes on the clock.  A straightforward penalty attempt by Farrell gave 0-10 within 11 minutes.
For the next 70 minutes, Quins were committed, physical and pragmatic.  It is rare for Sarries to be out-muscled at the breakdown, but this was an area of Sarries’ weakness all afternoon, and indeed cost Sarries the game.  An eleven minute period of intense pressure on the Sarries’ line paid off when momentary hesitation gave Care just the half of a moment that he needed to pick, look and deliver a perfect sideways chip to Walker on the wing, giving him the easiest of two-stride paces over for Quins’ first try.
And that was the first half, characterised by that try: Sarries unable to manage the pressure, Danny care given a half-second too long, and no out-wide defence. 5-10 at half-time, but the play definitely to Quins’ advantage.
The second half might have raised a flicker of hope, after all Farrell did take two penalties at various moments.  The final minutes are hazy in my mind.   However Care, for me the man of the match by a huge distance, took a sleeping Sarries defence by surprise with a very quick tap penalty on half-way, sliding the ball ahead and leaving the grateful Walker a clear run in, against a turned defence.  Farrell took another easy penalty offering, the result of one of Sarries occasional moments of sustained pressure, and with a four-point margin 15-19, the visitors had only two minutes to hold on for an improbable win.  A soft, perhaps contentious, penalty, another of several silly ones today, a bold pin-point kick to the corner, good lineout and Quins were looking for a happy ending.  It came with another chip on the money in the corner, a desperate leap by Goode, caught out by the lack of wing defence out wide, but his knock-on tipped as neatly into Visser’s hands as any planned pass ever did, given another walk-in, three or four paces this time, to take the win on 80 minutes.
I have now been present at more Sarries lost games in one month than in the last three years.  These are pressing moments, and it is difficult to put a reason to this run of five defeats.  Partly, every side in Europe wants the Sarries’ scalp, and mostly they want it more than any other.  Partly, Sarries have been a make-shift side recently, with players in and out according to other duties, injuries and so on.  Partly, the Sarries game has become too predictable recently.  No thinking side would have spent so much game time hoping to catch back-three units of teams like Chiefs or Quins unprepared for aerial bombardment.  However, for me the reason is simply that Sarries are not improving at the rate that we see elsewhere in the leading contender sides.  With the players they have, Sarries remain a very good side, but they no longer have the monopoly on skills, commitment, spirit or confidence.  
Europe next, and our old friends from the Auvergne, first here, then there.  Win on the coming home weekend, and things will look rosier, but lose, and we may well be looking at the longest losing streak that any of us can remember.  At the moment of writing I would not bet on Sarries making even a play-off or quarter-final this season, they are simply playing too poorly to justify one, let alone both.
I was seated between die-hard Sarries support and in front of die-hard Quins support.  Both groups thought the referee, Luke Pearce, one-eyed, which probably means that he got it about right. 
One memorable moment was the landmark achievement of 1,000 Premiership points by Owen Farrell.  It’s a pity that it had to be on such a poor afternoon.
Harlequins: Brown; Walker, Alofa, Roberts, Visser; Lang, Care; Marler, Elia, Collier, Merrick, Horwill (capt), Bothma, Robshaw, Luamanu.
Replacements: Ward, Boyce, Sinckler, Lamb, White, Kitto, Prior, R. Chisholm.
Saracens: Goode; Maitland, Bosch, Barritt (c), Wyles; Farrell, Wigglesworth; M. Vunipola, George, Koch, Isiekwe, Kruis, Itoje, Clark, Wray.
Replacements: Tolofua, Barrington, Figallo, Skelton, Burger, Spencer, Lozowski, Earle

Referee: Luke Pearce

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03/12/2017 20:51
Thanks Innings, never easy to write the report after a game like that! Hopefully by next weekend everyone will have remembered the rest of their team's names!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:12:14:17:34:46 by Darraghgirl.

TonyTaff (IP Logged)
04/12/2017 05:53
A most eloquent report, and impressively prompt.

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OldMarovian (IP Logged)
04/12/2017 16:05
Well done Innings. A very good balanced match report on a game that must have been frustrating to cover.

RobP74 (IP Logged)
04/12/2017 20:22
Great report thanks. Iíve been wondering how to categorise this unique run of results. Iíve only been following sarries closely for about 4 years so this is unprecedented! Different ways to look at it;

1/ tough set of fixtures
Pretty sure sarries only picked up 3 or 4 points from the corresponding fixtures last year. The stoop and Kingsholm have been graveyards for the team in recent seasons whatever our form and players available. So no need to panic!

2/ others have caught up
Sporting hegemonyís donít last for ever. Others have emulated sarries especially Exeter and repeating the run of recent seasons was always a big big ask.

3/ Lions are sleeping. For now.
Itís such a big ask for Maro, Farrell etc to step up again and again after two massive summer tours and draining seasons. Have we lost an edge without the Ďmust winí nature of recent games, not helped with such disruption to the squad? Perhaps the squad is inevitably going to hit a bit of a low before hopefully getting momentum again post Christmas.

4/ caught between styles.
The contrast of the two saints clashes and many of the other games is significant. Agree that we gave the ball away too much in recent games in stark contrast to some of the most brilliant team running performances against Northampton. Iím not sure if Iím watching 2014 or 2017 sarries from week to week. But perhaps teams have found us out this season also.

I think there is something in all of the above but expect the team to be in the mix come the end of the season in both competitions. Expect a big performance on Sunday!

gregory p (IP Logged)
07/12/2017 15:28
That's a very balanced, fair write up.

Ours is a bit more partisan. Forgive us, we've had a lean start to the season and Sarries is a great scalp for us.


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