Date: Saturday 31st March 2012
Kick-off: 15:00 (GMT)
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Referee: Greg Garner
All the momentum right now seems to be with the champions. After a confidence boosting campaign with England for David Strettle, Owen Farrell, Mouritz Botha and Brad Barritt, the international recognition Saracens felt their players deserved for so long has finally come around. Now their focus is on clawing back the deficit between first and second in the Aviva Premiership. Having produced a stunning marketing effort to sell out all 90,000 tickets for this weekend, a home win only seems right.
Seemingly coming out the right end of a wobbly patch of form, Harlequins dominance at the top of the table has seemingly gone on forever. The foundations for a playoff spot were laid with those first 10 consecutive wins at the start of the season, but it has been the emergence of players such as George Robson, Matt Hopper and Karl Dickson, plus the outstanding form of Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown, that has meant Quins have led the way. With only one win in their last three matches though, they need to kick on.
What to Expect:
Ideally a match with far more invention and excitement for the crowd than when these two sides met at the Big Game 4 just after Christmas. A lot relies on which pack gets the upper hand, so while Saracens have the stronger tight five, their lack of back row specialists with Jacques Burger and Andy Saull both out injured swings the advantage towards Robshaw at the breakdown. As for out wide, the Hodgson-Farrell-Goode kicking game will be out in full force against the gliding runs of Ugo Monye and Brown.
All Eyes On: Will Fraser & Danny Care
Picking young Fraser would have probably not been Saracens ideal choice for this big encounter with Quins, but needs must and the young back rower, who is dual registered with Bedford Blues, is the man for the job. Fraser’s responsibility will be in stopping Robshaw and Maurie Fa’asavalu from securing turnovers at the breakdown, whilst perhaps snaffling a few balls himself.
Meanwhile Danny Care’s off the field antics have dominated the headlines more regularly that his on pitch performances in recent months, but the England scrum-half is still a class act when on his game. His speed around the fringes could be crucial in unlocking the well drilled Saracens defence.
Head to Head: Charlie Hodgson v Nick Evans
Two of the finest sets of hands any side of Cannes, Saturday sees the Premiership’s all-time leading scorer go up against the man regarded as the finest 10 in the land. Quite some battle then, but with Farrell on kicking duties for Sarries, the emphasis will be on Hodgson’s distribution to get the home side over the gain line. Evans however must kick every penalty he can to keep Quins in touch.
On what hopefully will be a fantastic occasion, Saracens know how much is at stake here and will be desperate to complete the double over Harlequins. Saracens by 6.
by Ben Coles