Source: Naomi Baker - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

Quins do it – X-certificate stuff at Kingsholm

  • +1

The Allianz Premier 15s Final 2021

Saracens v Harlequins

Quins achieved their ultimate dream by defeating Saracens in the most thrilling advertisement for the women’s game imaginable.

On a perfect summer’s day in front of a crowd and television cameras, Quins had to overcome the loss of their iconic captain Rachael Burford after only eight minutes, then struggle through with thirteen players as Sara Cox yellowed Amy Cokayne then Abbie Ward within seconds of each other in the second half.

Sarries got off to an unfortunate start, Zoe Harrison’s kick floating straight into touch. From there Quins took masterful control, paying Sarries back in their own coinage with well controlled forward drives. Twice these led to penalties; twice Lagi Tuima added three points. (0-6)

Quins denied the champions the chance to get on the front foot, winning far more collisions than is usual in these contests. At a line-out on the left the Cokayne-Ward link worked a treat; the forwards drove and Cokayne gained the touchdown. (0-11)

And still Sarries couldn’t turn the tables. A carbon copy of the first try ensued, a perfect line-out, a drive and a second offering for the RAF officer. (0-16)

It took Sarries 27 minutes to get a sniff of the line. The forwards worked patiently to find a gap and finally Poppy Cleall slipped an inside pass to Marlie Packer as the Quins’ defence looked to mass against the No 8. (7-16)

Before the break Sarries incurred Cox’s displeasure yet again and Tuima brought the score to

Half-time: Saracens 7 Harlequins 19

There had been the tumultuous game at the Stoop where Sarries came back from a large deficit to gain victory against the odds. Could they do it again?

If Alex Austerberry had laid down clear guide-lines, they weren’t heeded. Seven minutes in and Bryony Cleall was shown a yellow. Another three points for Tuima. (7-22) This was beginning to look like an ascent of the north ridge for the champions.

In the 49th minute they at last looked like their true selves. Poppy Cleall took a quick (imperceptible?) tap eight metres out and Packer did the rest. (12-22)

Now the drama notched up several gears. As Sarries pounded away at the Quins’ line, Cox’s yellow card asked for overtime payment. Quins were deprived of first Cokayne then Ward. The look on their faces told its own story: they feared the game was up. Sarries had time enough to exploit the gaping holes in Quins’ defensive systems and they aren’t famed for their generosity.

Inevitably a try came, to Sophie de Goede. (17-22)

Just five points in it, and it was still 15 v 13.

But then Tuima was offered yet another penalty, this time from over 40 metres out. It sailed over. (17-25) So Sarries still needed two scores.

In short order the two Quins forwards returned to action; Sarries had failed to exploit their obvious advantage, indeed one of their most disappointing features was the lack of real penetration from their gifted backs. On one occasion they regained possession inside their own 22; the obvious option was to spread the ball wide, but Harrison chose to kick deep. The end result was another penalty for Quins, and a chance to use up more time with a kick to the corner.

Sarries finished up battering away at the line, but they lost possession and Riley kicked the ball to kingdom come.

The tension was high throughout. Cox had to keep firm control as the hits became harder and, in one or two cases, later. Saracens were deemed the culprits again and again at the breakdown, causing them dismay and confusion. Their normal patterns of play were disrupted mostly by the opposition, but all too often by the whistle. They chalked up a savage number of penalties, at least eighteen. Winning a game with that sort of dead weight is next to impossible.

Emily Scarratt was in the commentary box, not wearing the Quins No 13 shirt, as you might have suspected. That was how good a show Lagi Tuima put on. Her only blemishes were two conversion attempts that curved to the left of the posts; for the rest, she potted accurate penalty kicks, placed others deep into Sarries’ territory and provided their midfield defences with plenty of problems.

The Quins’ pack performed heroics; forget the legions of Red Roses it contained; players like Fi Fletcher, Katy Mew and Lauren Brooks played their part in stemming the Sarries’ tide.

At scrum-half Leanne Riley offered another high quality performance, one of her angled kicks to the corner an absolute peach to turn defence into attack.

But Emily Scarratt rightly picked out Shaunagh Brown as her choice of Player of the Match. That young woman isn’t a favourite of English fans; she is THE favourite.

Needless to say, Marlie Packer provided an astonishing example of non-stop activity in a losing cause. Some player.

I’m off to buy myself a chocolate hat. I will eat it solemnly in private, well away from mocking Quins’ comments about my powers of prediction.

Result: Saracens 17 Harlequins 25

Player of the match: Shaunagh Brown

Afterthoughts

This was the grandest of occasions. The Prem 15s can really feel it has turned a corner at the end of its fourth season. It was by far the most taxing on everyone concerned, from the organisers to the players.

After months of deprivation and toil the sun came out, a famous old ground welcomed a major women’s game for the first time, the crowd roared, and a world-wide audience had the chance to sample the fare.

For many people this final was a pivotal moment, not least for Karen Findlay, who now lays down her responsibilities with Quins. Two players finished on crutches, not only Burford but also Hannah Casey, the Sarries’ No 13.

For the first time a club has finished first in the table – by six clear points – and won nothing more than losers’ medals. That is the problem when you insist on combining a league with a knock-out competition. Yes, everyone knows the rules, but to me it seems cock-eyed. I’d be happy to see a knock-out cup reinstalled on the calendar, but where’s the room for it?

Teams:

Saracens
15 McKenna
14 Gregson
13 Casey
12 Aitchison
11 Clapp (captain)
10 Harrison
9 Swords
1 Botterman
2 Campbell
3 B. Cleall
4 de Goede
5 E. Taylor
6 Fleetwood
7 M. Packer
8 P. Cleall

Bench
16 Rettie
17 Clark
18 Rose
19 Galligan
20 Evans
21 Hayward
22 Corrigan
23 Laqeretabua

Harlequins
15 Rollie
14 Cowell
13 Tuima
12 Burford (captain)
11 Wilcock
10 Scott
9 Riley
1 Cornborough
2 Cokayne
3 Brown
4 Ward
5 Fletcher
6 Brooks
7 Mew
8 Beckett

Bench
16 Dobson
17 Edwards
18 Robinson
19 Green
20 Viksten
21 Eddie
22 L. Packer
23 Mayhew

Officials
Referee: Sara Cox
ARs: Nikki O’Donnell and Katherine Ritchie
TMO: Craig Maxwell-Keys