Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall lauded the form of Owen Farrell after admitting his side had narrowly escaped defeat after emerging as 38-24 Gallagher Premiership winners against Harlequins at Allianz Park.

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The relegated champions surged 28-3 ahead but were reeled in 31-24 as Quins staged a dramatic final-quarter comeback inspired by the arrival of bulldozing United States centre Paul Lasike from the bench.

“We were pretty good in the first half, we were in control at that stage, but we were very sloppy in the last 20 minutes,” McCall said. “It’s one of those games where there are certain things we are very content with and certain things we are not content with at all. 

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“It’s a good win against a good side. We did some things that allowed Quins to get some energy back and get themselves back in the game. They did that really well and put us under real pressure and it was game on for the last five minutes so we are grateful to come away with the win.”

Owen Farrell marked his 200th appearance for Saracens by making his comeback from a tight quad that forced him to miss the restart opener against Bristol. “Owen’s contribution over the time he has been with us has been incredible. He was outstanding again in this game,” McCall said.

Quins head of rugby Paul Gustard was critical of his fly-half Marcus Smith, who was successful with a drop goal at a time when his team were pushing hard for a try and had penalty advantage that called for an all-out assault on the whitewash.

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“We didn’t control the field in the first half as well as we could. Two or three big penalties went against us and they were quite critical,” Gustard said. “I felt like that moment just before half-time when we had penalty advantage and took a drop kick instead of trying to push for the try, was a big turning point in the game.

“It left us with a big mountain to climb but we did that. We were the more dominant team in the second half. We were physically dominant, on top in the scrum, but we just couldn’t quite control the field in that final minute.”

Quins’ fightback hinged on the 57th-minute arrival of Lasike, who used his strength to score two tries and set up a third for fellow substitute Scott Steele. “Paul is a big, strong boy. There aren’t many people who can carry the ball into direct contact as well as he can. He relishes that part of the game,” Gustard said.

“He’s a big player for us but unfortunately he had a couple of small niggles during pre-season, which are hampering how many minutes we feel can play at the moment. But he’s certainly a threat when he carries the ball, he sits people down and people don’t want to tackle him. We saw that with his tries.”

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