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By Behind the Bench
April 6 2017

Saracens vs Harlequins Aviva Premiership Rugby Saturday 8 April Wembley Stadium   Right .. let's get the bad pun out the way to start with. Sarries against Quins is on the same day as Bath's relocated game at Twickenham against Leicester Tigers - would have gone to both if they didn't ... er .... clash. Oddly in Burnt Oak Broadway there was a poster for the Bath game but nothing for Saracens who never seem to have marketed much in Edgware except for the Saracens logo added to the Barnet Borough sign in 2013.

Not a problem. Another bumper crowd for the annual appointment with a Quins side who have again lacked consistency: an improved league performance offset by a feeble failure to progress out of the European Challenge Cup. That said, Quins have worked their way into a four way tussle for fourth place with the Bath versus Leicester match effectively emerging as a play-off quarter final and Northampton very much the outsiders now. For Saracens, a win here should all but assure a play-off place though there would still be considerable work outstanding to assure a top two place. So the stage is set for an intriguing match.
It was Quins who ended Saracens' unbeaten start to the campaign back in September with a 17-10 home win, but just a week later, they were dismantled 47-18 at Wasps before bouncing back with what has proven to be a vital 20-9 home win over Northampton. A pattern emerged as the season progressed through the autumn as strong displays at home dovetailed with defeat on the road, no more so than the 43-21 bonus point Challenge Cup win at home to Stade Francais which preceded a 36-35 loss at Edinburgh in the second game. Momentum appeared to be growing, though, with back to back home wins against Worcester Warriors, 36-14, and impressively, 29-15 against eventual finalists Exeter Chiefs in the Anglo Welsh Cup. This was backed up by a narrow away win at Ospreys in the Welsh region's one-off return to the St Helens ground in Swansea. In the closing weeks of 2016, results continued to ebb and flow as an off-colour Leicester Tigers side still managed a 25-6 win at Welford Road ahead of a one point win the following week at home to form side Bath. The Challenge Cup double header served up a pair of matches against Romanian side Timisoara Saracens, with a 42-3 away win and 75-3 success at the Stoop. Rounding off a modest year, in truth, Quins won the latest Big Game instalment at HQ 28-24 against Gloucester, with more than a few nervous moments towards the end.
Harlequins failed to travel well in the New Year either as Worcester recorded a rare win at their expense at Sixways. Though they edged a 29-26 home win over Sale, the Challenge Cup campaign came to a calamitous close as a home loss to Edinburgh preceded a loss at Stade Francais, ending hopes of last season's run to the Final. However, hopes of silverware were rekindled when a 28-22 victory at Worcester and narrow home loss to Sale were enough to claim an Anglo Welsh semi final at Exeter. A mixed bag of results in recent weeks has nonetheless elevated the South West London club back into play-off contention and, at the very least, Champions Cup qualification. A thumping 42-8 win at Bristol preceded costly defeats to fellow challengers as losses came at Bath and at home to Leicester before the season was reinvigorated with a key 30-27 win at Gloucester, and though the Anglo Welsh semi-final at Exeter was lost, Quins were at their devastating best as Newcastle Falcons were demolished 53-17 at the Stoop. 
So Quins at their best in their last game. That meant a substantial 569 metres made, although not as many as Sarries against Glasgow, a clear majority of possession and territory, and plenty of clean breaks, offloads and defenders beaten . The only disappointment in this seven try display was a decidedly modest 77% tackle rate, but in the context of this match it didn't matter. At Wembley, a similar rate will. However, a back line back to full strength looks devastating if given a chance, with both Mike Brown and Tim Visser making over 130 metres apiece, and the dangerous half back duo of Nick Evans and Danny Care back in tandem. 
So, as it comes to possible line-ups, both sides seem likely to retain the core of the sides last on duty. For Saracens, Alex Goode should remain at full back, with Chris Ashton and Sean Maitland on the wings, and a centre partnership of Duncan Taylor and Brad Barritt, as Owen Farrell teams up with Richard Wigglesworth in the half backs. Forwards-wise, Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits and Vincent Koch are a potential front row, as Maro Itoje and Jim Hamilton continue in the second row and the back row remains Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola. For Quins, Brown should start at full back, with Marland Yarde and Visser on the wings, and a centre duo of Joe Marchant and Jamie Roberts; Evans and Care completing the backs. Into the pack, and the visitors will hope to cash in with a front row of Joe Marler, Joe Gray and Will Collier, with George Merrick and James Horwill at lock and a back row trio of Chris Robshaw, Dave Ward and Jack Clifford
Previously, lazy characterisation of this fixture might have been Quins as the artists versus the defenders of Saracens, counter attacking from their opponents' mistakes and kicking endlessly. For those at NW4 over the last two weeks, and beyond, it's an outdated description as both sides are equally talented creatively in attack. With both sides in form, and with all to play for, it should be a great match. Saracens. What can I say: The Second Potential Double Season?

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06/04/2017 18:58
Thanks Gerard. I think we could see Faz rested for this one maybe?

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:04:16:22:34:06 by Darraghgirl.

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