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Smith-less Harelquins cede commanding lead to Saracens

By PA
Owen Farrell slips the ball out /PA

Harlequins’ frustration at the absence of Marcus Smith for their derby against Saracens was compounded by throwing away a commanding lead in a 30-27 Gallagher Premiership defeat.

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Quins had attempted to secure Smith’s early release from the 10-week stand down period imposed on England players involved in the July tour to Australia, but were refused by the variety of bodies that make the decision.

Facing them, however, were Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola – each of whom were in action against the Wallabies, highlighting the inconsistency of a policy designed to improve player welfare.

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Quins’ sense of injustice found an early outlet as they surged 17-0 ahead but Saracens replied with four tries, including two from wing Max Malins, to set up a tense finish at Twickenham Stoop.

Saracens had a bye for last weekend’s opening round and, having blown away the cobwebs, they produced some brilliant moments before showing the composure needed to protect their slim lead at the death.

The rust showed early on as through a mixture of well executed play and opportunism, Quins had built a 14-point lead in the opening 10 minutes with Cadan Murley showing his pace to finish on both occasions.

The first came after a direct run by inside centre Lennox Anyanwu sucked in defenders to create an overlap and the second was the result of a turnover by Alex Dombrandt, who then fed the rampant Murley.

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Tommy Allan landed a long-range penalty to accompany his earlier conversions but a setback came when tighthead prop Will Collier limped off and in the next play Saracens struck with their first meaningful attack.
Harlequins v Saracens - Gallagher Premiership - Twickenham Stoop

By keeping the ball alive, Farrell and then Billy Vunipola created a half-chance that was finished brilliantly when Nick Tompkins drew the last defender and sent Elliot Daly racing over.

Momentum continued to shift towards Saracens when Ben Earl punched a hole in the middle and several phases later Malins was over in the right corner, rounding off a period of dominance.

Quins hit back, almost going close through their pack before punishing an error as the visitors counter-attacked when Farrell scooped the ball straight into the arms of Dombrandt who sent Joe Marchant over.

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Harlequins v Saracens - Gallagher Premiership - Twickenham Stoop

The try came at a cost as Dombrandt limped injury off immediately after and the exhilarating pace of the match continued into the second-half with Saracens the next to score.

Scrum-half Lewis Gjaltema was at the heart of confusion in the backfield and, following a direct run by Alex Lozowski, the ball was threaded to Malins to score his second.

Harlequins were struggling to escape their half as pressure mounted with a Farrell penalty reducing their lead to four points.

Billy Vunipola made his presence felt with two big carries and as a direct result of the second Saracens edged ahead for the first time through Tompkins.

Allan and Daly swapped penalties to continue fraying the nerves right until the end and Quins will rue a butchered line-out deep into visiting territory.

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