Sunday, 18th December 2016 @ 16:33
Harlequins ‘A’ were unable to hold off a second half comeback from Saracens Storm as they overcame a 19 point half time deficit to draw 22-22 at The Stoop in Round 4 of the Aviva ‘A’ League.
Harlequins lead 22-3 at half-time thanks to the try scoring efforts of Gabriel Ibitoye, Charlie Mulchrone and Mark Reddish, but Saracens raced back and clinched the tie at the death; Max Malins with the complex conversion, scoring in off the posts, to finish the match with the last kick.
As a result, Harlequins remain in fifth place of the Southern Conference, with Bath Rugby to play in April.
The match provided an opportunity to see Samoan international Elia Elia in a Harlequins shirt for the first time. The Harlequins pack was tested up front early on, conceding a penalty in the first scrum. This provided Malins the platform to give his side a 0-3 lead from the boot after just two minutes.
Charlie Walker was electric as ever and when he was taken high in the Saracens 22, Aaron Morris levelled the scores.
When Saracens conceded a second penalty, it provided Harlequins the momentum to score the first try.
The lineout set piece was a strong platform for the hosts and when Victor Keunan made a half break following a rolling maul, the ball was shipped wide for Ibitoye to skilfully finish on the right wing. Morris’ conversion extended the lead.
Saracens’ restart from the score went out on the full and Matt Hopper was able to make a strong run following the scrum on halfway. This gave Harlequins pressure and momentum deep in Saracens’ territory and after Mulchrone made a half dart, he was able to snipe and score from close range.
Equally comfortable in defence, Harlequins sustained Saracens midway through the first half. Andrew Fenby brilliantly sliced through the defensive line and although his offload couldn’t find the hands of George Perkins, Saracens hacked ahead. Walker gathered and the exit from the 22 was clean.
The defensive effort was not over yet however, from the lineout, Harlequins were penalised for taking a man in the air and as Saracens kicked to the corner, the defence forced a knock on.
The third Harlequins score was a fortuitous one, as Henry Taylor, the former Harlequins Academy member, tried to clear with a box kick, Reddish was able to charge down. Gathering the ball in the 22, he ran in to score and as Morris converted, Harlequins had a 22-3 lead.
With two minutes of the half remaining, Sam Aspland-Robinson, who had replaced Henry Cheeseman early on, was sin binned for a tip tackle. Ending the half with 14 men, Saracens would make the most of their advantage early in the second.
Winning a penalty from the kick-off, the visitors kicked for a lineout deep in Harlequins’ territory. From a dominant rolling maul, Perkins crossed from short range to score.
The match became very stop start due to a number of handling errors, but Saracens were able to pounce and having disrupted Harlequins possession on halfway on the hour mark, they raced up field. The scrambling Harlequins defence conceded a penalty which Saracens kicked to the corner. A clever lineout move, which worked down the blindside wing resulted in Brian Tuilagi crossing. The conversion was unsuccessful, giving Harlequins a seven point 22-15 margin.
Matt Shields made a strong impact when he came on to the field and as Harlequins won a penalty following one of his strong carries, the kick from 17 year-old EPDG member Marcus Smith narrowly went wide.
Two minutes later, Harlequins were given the opportunity to extend the lead. Morris stepped up to attempt a long range penalty from within his own half and although he had the legs, the direction was narrowly off.
In the final minute, Harlequins were pressurised on their own line and Josh Ibuanokpe secured what looked to be a match winning turn over. Morris cleared to touch but Saracens took a quick lineout and attacked.
Perkins weaved his way from 40 metres out to score the try on the left corner. With the scores reading 22-20, the conversion from Malins was an important one.
The fly-half coolly stepped up and slotted the shot to share the spoils.