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ESPN SCRUM / Aviva Premiership 2013-14 / Verdict
Saracens 31-17 Harlequins
Saracens' power game proves too much
Tom Hamilton
May 17, 2014
Steve Borthwick carries forward for Saracens © Getty Images

In the 66th minute of the match, Harlequins backs Mike Brown and Ugo Monye hobbled off, utterly exhausted and with bits of their body strained, while Saracens' captain Steve Borthwick looked at the bench with a look of resignation, he knew he was going to have to come off in what will be his final game at Allianz Park.

It was a brutal game, played with no shortage of physicality and in the balmy conditions in Barnet, the players left blood and sweat on the field but it was Saracens who had that extra bit in the tank as they kept their hopes alive of winning both the Heineken Cup and Aviva Premiership.

At the centre of Saracens' performance were Billy Vunipola and Brad Barritt. It was Vunipola who ended up getting the Man of the Match gong for a performance where he led with ball in hand, making 36 metres in the process, and also put his body on the line in defence, shown perfectly by his choke tackle in the last few seconds of the game. The old, slightly cuddly Vunipola is now a thing of the past, he has developed at Saracens into an international No.8 who is as influential back-rower as there is currently playing northern hemisphere rugby.

And then there was Barritt in the centres. He was largely overlooked during the Six Nations with Billy Twelvetrees the preferred option at No.12 but he showed all aspects of his game on Saturday with his offload putting over Chris Ashton for his try in the 61st minute which came shortly after his own effort. He was also a key cog in Saracens' defensive machine with the 14 tackles he made.

This was not a vintage Saracens performance. There were errors with Owen Farrell and Marcelo Bosch experiencing an off day from the tee with a 55% success rate but what the coaches will take from this game is that their side were under the cosh at half-time, six points behind Quins, but they had enough about them to strike back in the second 40 and score 20 unanswered points.

While Saracens will march on to face Northampton, you have to give credit to Harlequins. While this game eventually got beyond them, they caused Sarries one almighty scare with No.8 Nick Easter superb. When they last faced today's opponents, they fell 39-17 at Wembley, a win which left them sixth in the league. Back then thoughts of play-offs seemed little more than idle fancy, but coach Conor O'Shea installed a cup final mentality within the side for their final five games as they stormed to wins in all.

England coaches Andy Farrell and Mike Catt were in the stand watching this semi-final and they would have been impressed with Kyle Sinckler's showing. He has every chance of going to New Zealand as part of the 40-man England squad but one man the management will be sweating on is fullback Brown who picked up a leg injury. With Ben Foden and Alex Goode in the Premiership final, while much of England's selection headaches have revolved around hooker, they will be crossing both fingers and toes that Brown is available for their first Test on June 7.

But before that date with the All Blacks ticks around, Saracens have two shots at domestic immortality. Up next is Toulon and they will have to re-fill their lungs after today's energy-sapping match and regardless of what happens next Saturday in Cardiff, they will then have to go again at Twickenham on May 31. For captain Borthwick, who carried on to the pitch his son Hunter at the start of the game, he will hope to bring the curtain down on his eventful career with some silverware. In an ideal world for Saracens, he will have two new medals on his mantelpiece.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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