Owen Farrell showed few signs of rust on his return for Saracens, marking his 200th appearance for the club and his first since March with a typically spiky performance to guide his side past Harlequins.
Indeed, Saracens were imperious in the first half but Harlequins dragged themselves back into the match – and briefly to within seven points – with Paul Lasike coming off the bench to score two tries and set up another. Ultimately Saracens nipped any comeback in the bud, though Mark McCall will not be happy at how Lasike was able to make so many inroads.
Saracens have made it clear that, with their Premiership fate already sealed, defending their European title is their number one priority this season but they pride themselves on their professionalism. They met their high standards for the first 55 minutes if not so much for the remaining 25, but Alex Lewington’s opportunist score clinched the bonus point and with it the match with four minutes to go.
Initially this fixture was meant to take place in March, at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, but if it will not be remembered as the spectacle it could have been, Saracens at least began intent on dispatching their old rivals. Farrell finished with 18 points but it was his constant aggression that caught the eye. In the echoey Allianz Park he could often be heard screaming “Hit! Hit! Hit!”, and he was reprimanded by the referee, Christophe Ridley, for shoving Harlequins hooker Scott Baldwin just before half-time.
By that stage, Saracens were already three tries to the good from Sean Maitland, Maro Itoje and, on his full debut, Aled Davies. The first came after just four minutes after a strong carry from Billy Vunipola, the England No 8 offloading to Maitland to go over in the left corner. Farrell extended Saracen’s lead with a penalty before Harlequins had to make do with a Marcus Smith drop-goal after a lengthy period of pressure.
Almost immediately afterwards, Saracens had their second. Jamie George showed quick hands to put Michael Rhodes – who impressive throughout the first half in front of the watching Eddie Jones – down the right. He fed Lewington before strong charges from Sam Crean and Vunipola allowed Itoje to bundle over from close range. Davies was next over, sniping under the posts after a lineout in the left-hand corner, handing Saracens an imperious 22-point lead at the break.
Harlequins will take heart from their second-half showing, outscoring the disgraced champions three tries to one after the break thanks in no small part to the direct running of the replacement centre, Lasike. First he powered over from five metres, then another powerful run allowed Steele to snipe and he added another with five minutes remaining. Farrell had kicked three second-half penalties to ensure they were still ahead, however, and Lewington ended Harlequins’s hopes of an unlikely comeback just a minute after Lasike’s second try.