Vunipola strikes at death to grab victory from gutsy Quins
Billy Vunipola produced a man of the match performance in front of a watching Eddie Jones to ensure Sarries kept hold of their 100 per cent record.
Mark McCall’s men lifted their impressive record to 13 successive wins in a niggly derby.
However, they were made to struggle hard for this success – their sixth in this season’s campaign, which puts them level with Exeter on points – with the failure to get a bonus point meaning they had to settle for second place in the table.
Quins threatened to upset the champions by leading for the majority of the contest but Sarries finished strongly to make sure they enter another European campaign with their confidence and morale on a high.
Vunipola said: “It’s always pretty lively when we come here, and we always know Quins will make it as tough as they can for us. The rivalry between these two teams is big and it was a physical game. I enjoy these contests but we left it a little later than we had hoped. It was important to keep our winning run going, and keeps us right up there in the table.”
Fly-half Owen Farrell, who kicked 20 points, and made sure his side kept on the coat-tails of Quins before striking for victory in the final 10 minutes, said: “The character of this side was there for all to see. We did not play our best rugby and Quins came at us hard. But the sign of a good team is winning games like this even when you struggle at times.”
Mike Brown led Quins out to mark his 300th club appearance and the fullback, capped 72 times by his country, helped the hosts take a 13-9 half-time lead. The highlight of the opening 40 minutes was Danny Care’s interception try while the low point was the sight of Quins centre Paul Lasike carried off on a stretcher after being knocked cold after an unfortunate collision with giant Will Skelton’s knee.
Young England hopeful Marcus Smith kept his cool to send his kick through the posts for an early Quins lead after Alex Lozowski gave away a penalty. The hosts lost Lasike but Smith kicked a penalty and Care produced a moment of inspiration to intercept Ben Spencer’s pass and race half the length of the field for his 54th try on his 250th appearance.
Farrell’s accurate kicking either side of the break kept Sarries in the game but Quins grabbed a remarkable try through centre Joe Marchant who leapt to catch Smith’s penalty kick which had been held up by the wind. He athletically caught the ball and dived over for a superb score.
However, an eight-point lead was not enough as Sarries demonstrated just why they are champions, finishing strongly and grabbing the points.
Farrell sent over a fifth penalty and then converted after Vunipola popped up on the right wing for the crucial winning try.
Quins coach Mark Mapletoft described the performance as: “A mixture of incredible pride and frustration. I’ve not seen us defend like that for a long time but it hurts to lose as well.”