Harlequins had a tough challenge going into tonight's game. Saracens, under the guidance of ex-Wallaby fly-half Rod Kafer, have an impressive side this season with world-renowned names such as Thomas Castaignede and Taine Randell.
The game began strongly for the NEC Harlequins. They played a very simple and constructive game and having established a strong base, they began to use their exciting players out wide, such as Ugo Monye and George Harder.
A star performance by fly half Paul Burke put Quins in the lead; he dominated the initial period with two penalty kicks, the first awarded to Quins for hands in the ruck after only a minute of play and the next for playing the ball on the ground in the 11th minute. With some successfully landed place kicks by Burke the team then began to use their potential out wide.
Monye impressed with a number of crunching tackles, the first notable one put speedy Saracens winger Haughton into touch. Quins won their lineout and a rolling maul was set up, with the ball back in Monye's hands he showed that he is a fine match for Haughton and any other winger in the country at present, breaking the defense and making valuable ground.
Passing through a number of hands it was eventually Harder that crossed the line for the home team using not only his pace, but a crafty sidestep to score. Burke quickly converted putting the score at 13-0.
Soon after the restart Josh Taumalolo went off the field after having treatment to his knee and was replaced by Matt Moore who started on the wing, which saw Harder moving to the centres.
The match was quite combative in the initial periods, but the resilient Quins pack wore down their opposition towards the end of the half. Saracens bounced back with a well-taken try between the posts by former English schools player Andy Goode, who went on to convert his own try. (13-7)
It was not long before the Stoop crowds lit up and the brilliant speed of young wing Monye was on display again. Simon Miall took the lineout ball, which was sent left by scrum half Ben Willis onto Harder and then Monye, who dashed around Haughton and scored in the corner. Burke missed the penalty, his only miss in the game.
Burke added another three points to the total with a penalty kick in the 32nd minute (21-7). Just before the half time whistle Quins came through with their third try. The ball was passed to Ace Tiatia who broke free before passing to Harder who scored his second try of the match. Burke slotted another conversion. (28-7)
Saracens were awarded a penalty just on half time which was taken by Goode putting the score at 28-10 and while the team were taking a breather the rain started to a fall at the Stoop.
Having ridden the strong fight back by Saracens, Quins came out in the second half determined to establish dominance, and almost faltered to do so.
Through a number of injuries Josh Taumalolo (damaged medial ligaments in his right knee, out for a couple of weeks) and Gavin Duffy (twisted ankle, out of training for a couple of days) they were forced to reshuffle a ready compromised backline.
The half could be summed up as scrappy and the continuity was interrupted by the large number of replacements going on and off the field.
Tiatia was warned early in the half for not using his arms in a tackle, but fortunately for Quins, he was not sin binned. Shortly after, to shouts of 'Ugo, Ugo', Monye was taken off the field and replaced by Ireland U21 player Simon Keogh. Duffy went off soon after with a leg injury and was replaced by Andy Dunne.
Saracens were awarded a penalty for offside ten minutes into the half, which was kicked by Goode. (28-13)
The Saracens game plan of throwing the ball wide off almost every phase tested the re-jigged Quins team, but the players managed to withhold the attacking onslaught. This was particularly attributed to Ceri Jones and Jon Dawson in the front row, who scrummaged strongly and managed to reverse many potentially dangerous Saracens scrums, which helped the Quins defensive cause immensely.
Both sides had some potent attacking phases but did not manage to score. Harlequins were penalised close to the line in the dying minutes of the game when the referee awarded a penalty try. The game ended at 28-20. Overall the team was relatively satisfied with both the performance and result, but are aware that the Zurich Premiership will again provide a step-up in terms of competition and aggression. With notable performances by Dawson, some good lineout play by Miall, Bill Davison and Tony Diprose and clean, swift ball from scrum half Willis.
The first match is next Saturday (13th September, kick off 14.45) versus London Wasps at the Stoop. The team will no doubt look forward to all the supporters who turned out tonight to give them more loyal support, and hope that the beginning of the season will be enjoyable, which will only be realised with some hard earned wins.
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.