Key wins for Harlequins, Saracens and Leicester

Planet Rugby

Defending champions Harlequins secured a crucial victory over play-off rivals Gloucester as their impressive second half performance saw them claim a 20-17 triumph at Kingsholm.

The in-form Cherry and Whites were much the better team in the opening 25 minutes, going 10-0 ahead through Ruan Ackermann’s try and Adam Hastings’ penalty, but the visitors hit back.

Marcus Smith kicked a three-pointer and Luke Northmore touched down to level matters at the break before they controlled the majority of the second period.

Although they weren’t initially rewarded on the scoreboard, Danny Care crossed the whitewash on his birthday to eventually break the deadlock and Smith added another penalty to seal the win.

Santiago Socino went over late on for George Skivington’s men to rescue a losing bonus-point, but Quins deserved their win.

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Gloucester showed two changes from the side that beat Bath last time out, with centre Billy Twelvetrees replacing Mark Atkinson and Fraser Balmain gaining a start at tighthead prop.

Smith, who missed Quins’ victory over Northampton six days ago due to a positive coronavirus result, was back in action after returning a negative test that allowed him to resume training.

Elsewhere, Northmore and lock Hugh Tizard also featured, with Tizard taking over from injured captain Stephan Lewies, while prop Joe Marler failed a late fitness test and was replaced by Santiago Garcia Botta.

Quins felt Marler’s absence in the early scrums as Gloucester’s forwards controlled set-piece action, gaining three penalties on the back of some outstanding work.

Such dominance gave the home side a strong territorial platform, but they could not make it count during the opening quarter through a combination of poor handling and missed opportunities, underlined by scrum-half Ben Meehan failing to capitalise on Evans’ break.

Hastings kicked Gloucester ahead after 21 minutes, before Lloyd Evans and wing Louis Rees-Zammit sparked a spectacular counter-attack from deep inside their own half.

The move passed through several pair of hands before space was created for prop Val Rapava-Ruskin, but he spilled possession under pressure while diving over Quins’ line for what would have been a stunning score.

Gloucester, though, only had to wait another minute to open their try account, and Ackermann marked his 100th appearance for the club in style by touching down following a close-range lineout, with Hastings converting.

Ackermann struck while Quins were temporarily a man down following a yellow card for flanker Tom Lawday, and it took the visitors more than 30 minutes before they made a meaningful excursion to Gloucester’s 22.

But the results were impressive, with Smith kicking a penalty and then converting Northmore’s fine solo try as Quins posted 10 points in rapid time.

It tied things up at the interval, although not before Quins collected a second yellow card when Northmore was guilty of a deliberate knock-on.

Quins dominated the third quarter, yet they were unable to make a stream of possession count, and Smith’s poor pass on attack allowed Gloucester leeway.

It remained all-square going into the final 20 minutes, then Smith missed a gilt-edged chance to put Quins ahead for the first time as an angled 30-metre penalty hit the post.

Tizard was stopped just short of the line as Quins maintained relentless pressure, but Gloucester could not hold out for much longer, with Care darting off the back of a maul to claim his team’s second try, and Smith converted.

A second Smith penalty put daylight between the teams, and there was no way back for Gloucester, despite Socino’s 78th-minute touchdown.

Second-half surge helps Saracens see off Northampton

Alex Lozowski inspired Saracens to a 30-6 victory that cemented second place in the Premiership as Northampton failed to capitalise on a dominant first-half.

Lozowski crossed in the 45th minute to land a decisive blow at Franklin’s Gardens and the former England centre also landed three penalties and three conversions, lifting his individual total to 20 points.

Until Lozowski’s injection of pace and sharp line propelled him over, Saints had pounded away at a resilient defence without reflecting their control on the scoreboard.

An interval scoreline of 6-6 was a poor return for all the time spent camped in the opposition 22 and sure enough it proved their undoing when Saracens found a new gear in the third quarter.

Late tries by Tom Woolstencroft and Maro Itoje distorted the result but Saints had appeared to run out of steam, their all-action style draining them of energy.

And there was more good news for the five-time champions as England hooker Jamie George made a successful comeback from a knee injury ahead of schedule as Eddie Jones plans for the Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 5.

Leicester far too good for Newcastle

Leicester Tigers comfortably maintained their winning run this season after securing a 31-0 bonus-point victory over Newcastle Falcons.

The Midlanders controlled the match and went into the break 17-0 in front thanks to tries from Dan Kelly and Matt Scott.

George Ford added a penalty before he converted George Martin’s try in the second period. At 24-0 in front, the game was over but the Tigers struggled to find the key fourth try as Newcastle battled in the final quarter.

However, they eventually found their way over as Harry Potter touched down to take them up to a staggering 50 Premiership points after just 11 matches.