Harlequins clinched their first Premier 15s title to erase memories of two defeats against a Saracens side that had beaten them in the last two finals. It was Harlequins’ first domestic title and came after they had raced into a 16-point lead.
The match started the match on shaky ground for the champions with Zoe Harrison kicking the ball straight out of play. The fly-half was in trouble again as Quins’ captain Rachael Burford charged down her kick which led to the first points of the match as Lagi Tuima slotted a penalty in front of the posts.
A blow for Quins came as Burford hobbled off the pitch shortly after but it did not impact the team as they doubled their lead three minutes later with another penalty from Tuima.
Confidence and dominance oozed from Quins as they continued to pressure Saracens with sustained possession. The momentum led to the first try of the afternoon as Quins’ driving maul steamed towards the line and, after a TMO check, Amy Cokayne’s try was confirmed. While Tuima missed the extras, Gerard Mullen’s side were 11-0 ahead after just 19 minutes. Quins won yet another penalty in their 22 and displayed their intent as Tuima kicked to the corner. The driving maul worked impeccably again as Cokayne scored her second.
Everything was going Quins’ way until Emma Taylor charged down a kick from Tuima to give Sarries’ fans something to cheer about. The opportunity resulted in a penalty and, knowing they needed the full five points being 16-0 down, they opted to tap and go.
After several attempts, Sarries found their first points with a leap to the line from Marlie Packer. Harrison added the conversion to put the defending champions back in the match.
However, Tuima added another penalty and Quins stifled a Sarries attack to end the half 19-7 up. Quins came out the blocks firing in the second half with every chance for Saracens to attack repelled with strong and effective defence.
Saracens then suffered a huge knock as Bryony Cleall was shown yellow for a penalty at the breakdown. Tuima inflicted another three-pointer and Quins started to stretch away from their London rivals. However, Saracens then hit back with a try from Packer. Harrison missed the much-needed conversion but the score inspired a comeback. After a sustained period on the try line for Saracens, Quins’ Cokayne and Abbie Ward were shown yellows in quick succession and Saracens scored their third of the afternoon through Sophie De Goede.
Heading into the last 10 minutes, Tuima extended the difference between the sides to eight points which proved the final score.
While Saracens threw everything they had at Quins, the latter came out victorious and Kingsholm eruptedwith players’ celebrations showing exactly what their first title meant.
Burford said: “I’m so proud of the players. The way we came out. This whole week we had complete confidence and belief and we knew if we did everything right we knew we [could win].
“It was a great spectacle today, let’s keep pushing [the women’s game]. It is hard to describe [the win] as we have been on a rollercoaster journey but I’m really proud of this.” On her injury, she said: “It is feeling a bit better now but I don’t know if that is because I have this medal around my neck.”
The Saracens’ head coach, Alex Austerberry, admitted his team were their own worst enemies. He said: “When things go against you, the worst thing is to force it and I think we made not rugby-right decisions.When the penalty count is rising higher than the scoreboard it isn’t our day.”