Will Skelton scored twice as Saracens closed the gap on Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership following a battling 27-20 triumph over Harlequins at the London Stadium.
It was a pretty dire affair in the opening period but it came to life in the final 10 minutes of the half. Marcus Smith touched down, adding to his earlier three-pointer, before the hosts responded through a pair of Alex Lozowski penalties, but Quins went into the break 17-6 ahead via Danny Care’s effort.
It was not enough, though, as Schalk Burger crossed the whitewash before Skelton’s double helped the north Londoners edge their fellow play-off challengers.
Saracens have endured an inconsistent time in the Premiership but, with their internationals back from Six Nations duty, they were expected to respond. However, Sarries were lethargic in the first half and Quins benefited from their opponents’ inability to dominate the gain line.
Paul Gustard’s men were not particularly effective themselves at times, but they were infinitely more creative and purposeful than their opponents and went into an early 3-0 lead via Smith’s penalty.
Mike Brown then threatened, breaking through Lozowski’s weak attempted tackle, but the Allianz Park-based team recovered well to halt the move.
Harlequins duly had to wait until the 32nd minute to score the first try. It was neatly worked with a midfield set-piece play ending in their young fly-half scampering between two defenders and across the whitewash.
McCall’s outfit hit back via the boot of Lozowski – the second coming after Matt Symons had been yellow carded – but the centre was to then cost his side seven points by kicking the ball out with a second left on the clock. It gave Quins a five-metre lineout and Care found the space to snipe his way over the line for a 17-6 advantage.
Evidently stung by that display in the first half, Saracens were far better after the break and immediately got back into the contest through Burger’s close range effort.
Buoyed by that try, Sarries maintained their control on proceedings but were frustrated by the officiating, who decided to rule out David Strettle’s try after Care and Liam Williams were involved in a scuffle.
Both were sin-binned but it was to prove more costly for Quins after they conceded three minutes later through Skelton, before the lock repeated the trick to secure the win for the defending champions.
Smith’s second three-pointer was sandwiched in between the second-row’s brace but it only gave them a losing bonus-point as they dropped below Gloucester in the table.
That was because the Cherry and Whites sealed an important 27-14 victory over Wasps. They fell 11-0 behind early on via Marcus Watson’s try and two Rob Miller penalties, but Willi Heinz, Ruan Ackermann and Jake Polledri all went over to secure the win.
Meanwhile, in the battle between two relegation-threatened teams, Worcester Warriors boosted their survival prospects by overcoming Bristol 27-25 at Ashton Gate.
It was an entertaining first half as the away side went into the interval 24-18 in front thanks to efforts from Ted Hill, Ben Te’o and Josh Adams, while the Bears hit back through Luke Morahan’s effort and a penalty try. Callum Sheedy also scored in the second period but Duncan Weir’s second penalty proved to be the difference.
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