Owen Farrell edges Marcus Smith to help Saracens overcome Harlequins
At the home of one undisputed No 10, Owen Farrell edged his England fly-half rival Marcus Smith to guide Saracens to a home semi-final before limping off with an ankle injury that threatens to curtail his end-of-season run-in. Farrell departed 10 minutes from time in considerable pain after a nasty bang on his left ankle and must now be considered doubtful for Saracens’ Champions Cup last-16 tie against the Ospreys next weekend at least.
Mark McCall confirmed that Farrell had overcome a grade one strain to his left ankle to lead England against Ireland last weekend and evidently the problem has not fully cleared. He could face a lengthy spell on the sidelines if the prognosis is not as positive as Saracens would hope. “I think he’s aggravated the ankle he aggravated for England,” said McCall. “I don’t know how he’ll be for next week, we’ll wait and see.”
By the time he made way, Saracens had secured the victory they needed to secure a top-two finish before turning their attentions to the Champions Cup. Farrell had played his part in what was another eye-catching performance from Saracens, who continue their metamorphosis into a more aesthetically-pleasing side, and if it was far from a perfect performance it was too much for Harlequins to cope with.
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Smith, for his part, dazzled at times, made mistakes in others but never stopped trying to carve open the Saracens defence. It makes for captivating watching – Spurs could do with a player like that themselves – and comes in stark contrast to Farrell’s composed style. In truth, neither player had the kind of impact as Billy Vunipola, persona non grata with England at the moment, and it was Saracens’ ruthless streak, coupled with their ability to keep the error count lower than their visitors, which ultimately proved decisive. “Billy is so determined,” added McCall. “He is in great physical condition, as good as I have seen him. He has to do his talking on the field.”
They scored five tries to Harlequins’ four, denying their visitors a second bonus point because Farrell’s kicking was more accurate than that of Smith and even if their captain is absent, they can look forward to facing the Ospreys with optimism. Harlequins travel to Cape Town to face the Stormers and have now won just one of their last eight league matches. That trip south comes with trepidation.
Vunipola began with the air of someone with a point to prove. He thundered into contact early on – on one occasion seemingly picking out Alex Dombrandt but it was the current England No 8 who struck the first telling blow, dotting down the opening try for the visitors after a sharp pass from Smith.
Another strong carry from Vunipola brought a penalty and the platform for Saracens’ response – Alex Lozowski gathering Ben Earl’s offload to go over under the posts. They added a second after a glorious 50:22 grubber from Alex Goode with Farrell splitting open the Harlequins defence from the subsequent lineout before Nick Tompkins went over.
Saracens were humming by now but were stopped in their tracks when Ivan van Zyl collided with Danny Care as he chased his own grubber. It was not a carbon copy of the Freddie Steward incident last week but close enough for discomfort – the referee Luke Pearce ultimately deciding that a Saracens scrum would suffice. Van Zyl went off for a head injury assessment and Care followed him a minute later after a yellow card for going off his feet at a ruck. Harlequins weathered the expected storm, conceding only one Farrell penalty while down to 14 men but soon after they were restored to 15 Saracens worked Andy Christie over on the left.
Harlequins were back to within eight points early in the second half with Cadan Murley’s first try but Sean Maitland soon finished off Saracens’ fourth after a delightful grubber and gather from Max Malins. Murley powered his way through Malins – all too easily – for his second try but any hopes of a comeback became all the more difficult when Luke Northmore was shown a yellow card for catching Farrell late. They were over when Maro Itoje added the fifth try for Saracens from a driving lineout, even if Joe Marchant sealed a try bonus point for Harlequins after a yellow card for Christie.