TheSaracens.com – BEATING THE STOOP HOODOO

In recent times, Saracens have struggled on visits to The Stoop and you have to go back to September 2015 (when Quins were famously “nilled” by their London rivals) for the last time the Men in Black came away with a win. Up until then it was all plain sailing with victories for the away team in all 5 of the previous seasons (albeit the one at Christmas in 2011 was at Twickenham). I particularly remember a visit to the Stoop back in 2006, a cold Friday night just before Christmas when the fog descended and for much of the game, those sitting at either end saw very little (pre-dates large TV screens). Fortunately we were more central and were just able to witness, through the gloom, 2 tries in the first 10 minutes (the Mercurial one and Ratuvou I believe) and a winning try right at the end from Ben Skirving.

I don’t remember Sarries doing much for the other 60 minutes but what they did was enough for a win.

For the past 3 seasons, Quins have proved very difficult to beat on their own turf. 2016 saw a 29-23 win for Quins (and the end of a 15-match unbeaten run for the Men in Black) with 14-man Sarries (after Rhys Gill was red-carded) just failing to hold on for the win. The following season it was once again Quins who brought Sarries’ 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions (dating back to the 2015-16 season) to an end with Sarries dominating the game but unable to score the points. Then last season a defeat at The Stoop by a single point (due to a last minute Tim Visser try) inflicted a 5 th straight defeat on Saracens in all competitions (a run which continued with back-to-back losses to Clermont before a victory over Leicester Tigers on Christmas Eve stopped the rot).

Sarries, as we know, have enjoyed a perfect start to the season – 5 bonus point wins. Quins, on the other hand, have won just 2 of their 5 games and yet such are the vagaries of this year’s Premiership, they still sit in 4 th place with 13 points thanks to amassing 5 bonus points along the way. Eddie Jones, as we know, continues to place a lot of faith in the mighty Quins with Mike Brown, Danny Care, Chris Robshaw, Kyle Sinckler & Nathan Earle (formerly of this parish) all in the England Training Squad and the likes of Marcus Smith remain firmly in Eddie’s thoughts. Joe Marler was the 6 th full squad member but last week announced his International retirement. Probably not good news for Quins’ opponents. Last weekend, Quins sneaked a 2 point win away at Castle Grim when Marcus Smith slotted a penalty right at the death. Quins are now of course in the capable hands of Paul Gustard, once again formerly of this parish and also formerly of England. I think I read somewhere on twitter a rather jokey “exchange” between Gussie and Marler that went something along the lines of:-

Anyway, I digress. I wandered over to the new Quins forum “comeallwithin” (for those who don’t know Quins have abandoned Sports Network) to look for some comments around this upcoming encounter. Can’t say I was over impressed! Tricky to navigate, over complicated, bit messy really. More to the point the only discussion was around whether they should capitulate and play their A team or whether the Stoop Hoodoo would play in their favour and they should go for it. Oh and whether Gussie favours Lang over Marcus Smith.

So to the game – I assume the late night kick-off relates to the so-called “derby” (Saints v Tigers at HQ that afternoon). (Apparently it is also being shown live on US TV – probably a better option than both teams decanting across the pond but a decided inconvenience). I would expect Quins will put out a similar team to that which beat Gloucester. Mike Brown has returned as full back. Nathan Earle seems to be enjoying life at Quins (2 tries last weekend) presumable with Visser the other wingman and Marchant and Tapuai in the centres. Will Gussie be tempted to start wunderkid Marcus Smith at 10 or stick with James Lang presumably alongside Danny Care. Liberated Marler and Kyle Sinckler will probably prop alongside Max Crumpton or Dave Ward. Horwill has returned at lock to partner Matt Symons with a back row of Bothma, Chisholm and Chris Robshaw.

Sarries have been doing a bit of rotation over the past few weeks giving most of the squad a week off. Alex Goode has to start at 15 after his magical performance last weekend. Sarries have talent a plenty in the wings – perm any 2 from Williams, Maitland, Lewington and Strettle. All 4 of them are on fire at the moment (17 of Sarries’ 28 tries this season have come from the wingers)! Hopefully Barritt will get a break after repeated bangs on the head so we could see Tompkins partner Loz. It’s probably Spencer’s turn to start alongside Owen . The options are more limited in the front row: although our make shift tight heads did a decent job against Bath, Marleybone could be a different proposition! Presumably Mako starts alongside Jamie George (assuming we don’t have to give him a week off although Tolofua is looking increasingly useful) and probably Titi after his promising performance on Saturday. Second row is another area where we are spoilt for choice: “Kritoje”, Isiekwe, Skelton – perm any 2. And we can also take our pick of the back 3 now Burger and Billy are up and running alongside a fit again Jackson Wray, Mike Rhodes and Ben Earl. (Is Vailanu fit again? And what about Dom Day and Calum Clark? – good to see all 3 are turning out for Storm). We should make the most of it though – it won’t be long before the Autumn Internationals mean our strength in depth is truly tested!