Friday, 25th January 2019 @ 00:00
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A brave performance by Harlequins, who were forced to play for 50 minutes with 14 men, finally ended in a 12-32 defeat but there were many positives to be taken from this Premiership Rugby Cup match at The Stoop.
Not least was the sight of co-captains Chris Robshaw and James Horwill back in the quartered shirts, who both put a great shift in and gave the sell-out crowd something to cheer. Horwill came off after 50 minutes as the Club looked to manage his game-time while Robshaw came through the full 80, much to the delight of the home support.
Other highlights included some fantastic work on both wings from Gabriel Ibitoye and Charlie Walker and a couple of excellent tries following rolling mauls from the lineout for Josh Ibuanokpe and Elia Elia to score.
But it was always going to be a tough fight against a typically physical Saracens side when Number eight Renaldo Bothma was shown a red card after 30 minutes.
With the score at 7-8, with both sides having scored a try and only a Max Malins penalty separating the teams, Bothma looked set to go on another rampaging run down the left wing where he was beginning to have a bit of joy and getting the crowd off their feet. However this time he raised his arm into the challenge from Dom Morris and referee saw no option but to show the red card.
Until then there had been nothing between the two sides in the opening half an hour.
Harlequins had all the early pressure and deserved their 7-0 lead after three minutes. A high tackle on Charlie Walker was penalised and James Lang was able to kick to the Sarries’ five-yard line. From the lineout, a couple of drives for the line from Ben Tapuai and James Horwill were held up before Ibuanopke drove over for the five points. Lang was handed a simple conversion under the posts and it was 7-0.
But Saracens were back in it almost immediately when they won a penalty of their own from the re-start, kicked to Quin’s five-yard line and, from the resulting lineout, Number eight Sione Vailanu collected at the front and charged over almost unchallenged. Fly-half Max Malins was unable to convert and Quins remained in the lead 7-5 until the 19th minute when they conceded a penalty for holding on. This one, in front of the posts, was an easier proposition for Malins.
Then came Bothma’s red card in the 30th minute and the home supporters feared with it might be the match. Saracens almost immediately capitalised against the 14 men but, with the try line at his mercy, Morris spilled the ball. Quins battled well for the rest of the half and had an opportunity to re-take the lead in the 35th minute after another strong attack down the left wing resulted in a penalty for a deliberate knock-on. Lang was unable to convert from 35 yards however.
Lang, though, was enjoying an excellent kicking game with ball in hand and found touch again five yards from the Sarries’ line with three minutes remaining. Quins could not find a way through and moments later Sarries’ prop Titi Lamositele made a dangerous break of his own down the middle. The visitors were unable to capitalise however and the half finished with Sarries a point to the good at 7-8.
Quins started the second half with a bang and a brilliant run from Charlie Mulchrone from the kick-off saw him break into the Sarries’ half. The visitors conceded a penalty, Lang kicked for touch five yards from the line and another strong lineout and rolling maul saw Elia touch down to put Quins back in the lead. Lang was unable to convert to leave the scores at 12-8 but Saracens were within a point again when Quins were penalised for not rolling away and Alex Lozowski cooly converted from 25 yards.
Quins continued to battle hard and Ibitoye’s running from his own half continued to threaten but, just when the hosts were beginning to build momentum, Mulchrone’s box-kick was charged down by Joel Kpoku and when the ball bounced nicely for him he had a clear run at the line. Ross Chisholm chased him down but it wasn’t enough to stop him touching down underneath the posts. Lozowski converted and Saracens led 12-18.
Harlequins responded with a raft of changes and continued to create opportunities. Robshaw started one move which saw some excellent interplay and running from Chisholm and Walker before Quins were awarded another penalty and kicked to Sarries’ five-yard line. The resulting pressure got the crowd off their feet but Quins could not find a way through.
There was still only six points in the match with 10 minutes remaining when Saracens scored their third try of the match. The visitors turned over a Quins attack, Ralph Adams-Hale burst through the middle, offloaded to Malins who ran in unopposed under the posts. The conversion was simple for Lozowski and, with the score at 12-25, it was going to be a big struggle for the 14 men to recover.
Then, with the clock showing 80 minutes Quins were breached again. A Saracens scrum just inside the Quins 22 saw the ball shipped inside to winder Rotimi Segun who again broke through a tiring Harlequins defence.
The final score showed a 20-point deficit but did not reflect the performance. Harlequins battled valiantly with 14 men and will take plenty of positives into the two-week break until the side faces back-to-back home matches against Worcester Warriors and Bristol Bears in the Gallagher Premiership.
Tickets are now available here for Harlequins v Worcester Warriors at The Stoop on Saturday 16th February
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