By Alan Dymock
BEFORE WE’VE even had time to consider whether or not we can cope without the RBS 6 Nations, the good folks at Aviva Premiership Rugby have served us up a slice of something tasty.
Top-of-the-table Saracens will be hosting Harlequins at Allianz Park, with both teams hunting a home semi-final in the play-offs as they pull into the last five games of the season.
With such a monumental tussle ahead, both sides will be glad of the return of their international stars and Quins will also be buoyed by their Anglo-Welsh Cup victory against Sale Sharks last weekend. With standout performances from Ben Botica and Tom Guest, Sarries will be worried about the pair repeating the trick for a side looking to continue the momentum.
With Leicester breathing down their necks, Harlequins will be delighted that they can recall the likes of Chris Robshaw, Olly Kohn and Mike Brown – after the LV= Cup final director of rugby Conor O’Shea made a light-hearted comment about Brown enjoying a return to full-back following his stint on England’s wing during the Six Nations – but Saracens will be hoping to maintain a bit of breathing room between themselves and the defending champions.
It remains to be seen if Sarries will make their new home in Barnet a fortress, but with the likes of Charlie Hodgson and Owen Farrell able to study the corners, do not be surprised if Harlequins are sent chasing after kicks for most of Sunday afternoon.
Saracens will be well rested after running a second string in the LV= Cup semi-final and an arm wrestle would no doubt suit the home side, particularly with an in-form Will Fraser being joined by the human stress-ball Kelly Brown. And if Sarries get on the front foot, the likes of front-rowers Mako Vunipola and Schalk Brits will be able to harrumph into the soft spots in Quins’ defence.
Harlequins love to counter and will be hoping to catch a break in the Saracens kick-chase. However, it is at the breakdown that the referee will have a tough task. Things could get a bit hairy in there and a scrum could be considered respite. If you love a bit of big game, the possibility of seeing Vunipola and James Johnston going man to man could be enough to entertain you.
The outcome of this one could be a useful indicator for who is able to finish the strongest this term and with Leicester Tigers playing a tricky tie away to Exeter Chiefs the day before there could be added zeal from the two as they look to put distance between themselves and the Midlands outfit.
What is certain, though, is that this will be full-blooded. Avoid if easily spooked.
Saracens v Harlequins, kick-off 2pm on Sunday 24 March, is live on ESPN.