TWO late tries helped Saracens to secure a bonus-point win at home to Harlequins at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and confirm their place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs for an eighth successive year.
Despite controlling the game virtually throughout in front of a bumper crowd of more than 71,000, Sarries looked like they might miss out on the maximum points they needed to guarantee a top-four finish with three matches to spare when they had only scored two tries with eight minutes remaining.
But Michael Rhodes and Alex Goode both touched down in the closing stages – to add to earlier scores from Chris Ashton and Schalk Brits – as the reigning champions ensured that they did get a full reward for their efforts.
“It was a hugely pleasing performance,” said director of rugby Mark McCall. “We’re going big game, after big game, after big game at the moment.
“Last week’s win over Glasgow in the European Champions Cup was big for us and to have a six-day turnaround and then to show some of our qualities was great. Not all of our rugby was perfect, but I was pleased with the attacking qualities and the effort, everyone put in a shift.
“The first seven months are about getting into the strong position we’re in now, progressing in the competitions that we’re interested in.
“Thankfully we managed to win the quarter-final of the Champions Cup and are in a decent position entering these last two months of the Premiership. There are lots of things to be excited about now.”
Quins enjoyed a lot of possession throughout the match, but they lacked the penetration to break through the hosts’ fierce defence – although a Nick Evans penalty did give them the lead on 11 minutes.
However, it was Sarries who carried by far the greater cutting edge and they hit back by claiming the first try of the match on 17 minutes.
A sweeping move ended with Duncan Taylor producing a terrific offload to Goode, who chipped ahead – and Ashton beat Mike Brown to the ball and touched down out wide. Owen Farrell converted.
Seven minutes later the hosts extended their lead as a powerful driving maul took play deep into the Quins 22 before Brits broke off the back of it and forced his way over the line. The conversion was again successful.
The visitors hit back courtesy of two more Evans penalties before Saracens squandered a great chance to pull further clear on 31 minutes when Ashton failed to hold on to a Goode’s pass with the line at his mercy following a fine break by Joel Conlon.
However, Farrell did slot over a penalty from next to the posts four minutes later to leave Sarries 17-9 ahead at the interval.
The two kickers then exchanged penalties in the early stages of the second half before two more Farrell penalties gave the hosts a commanding lead heading into the final ten minutes.
And any doubts over the result were ended when Sarries claimed a third try seven minutes from time.
Maro Itoje started the move by stealing possession at a line-out and a long pass from Goode was collected by Rhodes, who burst clear to score by the posts and leave Farrell with a simple conversion.
Harlequins hit back two minutes later as James Horwill forced his way over the line from close range for a try that Tim Swiel converted, but this was little more than a consolation try for the visitors.
Fittingly it was the hosts who had the final say as they claimed an all-important fourth try to seal the bonus point on 78 minutes – with another sweeping move ending with Farrell and Rhodes combining to put Goode clear to score. Farrell continued his immaculate day with the boot by adding the conversion to round off the scoring.
Saracens face Northampton in Milton Keynes on Sunday (3pm).
Saracens: Goode, Ashton (Tompkins 65), Taylor, Barritt (Lozowski 72), Maitland (Flanagan 75), Farrell, Spencer (Wigglesworth 51), M Vunipola (Lamositele 46), Brits (George 54), Koch (du Plessis 59), Itoje, Hamilton (Conlon 23), Rhodes, Wray, B Vunipola.
Harlequins: Brown, Yarde, Marchant, Roberts, Visser (Alofa 65), Evans (Swiel 74), Care (Mulchrone 74), Marler (Lambert 65), Buchanan (Gray 56), Collier (Sinckler 56), Merrick (Matthews 56), Horwill, Robshaw, Clifford (Ward 5), Luamanu.