Owen Farrell finds his touch to spoil Harlequins' perfect start

Saracens have not scored a try now for 260 minutes but they still did enough to spoil Harlequins' perfect start to the season and seize third place in the Aviva Premiership table.

If there was little stunning beauty about this contest it was an important result for Saracens, who can now enjoy their prearranged trip to the Oktoberfest in Munich on Monday more than they might have done.

It was a significant day, too, for Owen Farrell, whose six penalties from six attempts not only settled the outcome but represented a major improvement on his kicking ratio this season. Watched by his father, Andy, and England's skills coach, Mike Catt, he picked a good day to banish any lurking demons, his accuracy contrasting with the usually reliable Nick Evans, who missed four kicks out of eight.

Farrell sounded suitably relieved afterwards, as did his director of rugby, Mark McCall. Sarries had commenced the week by calling a squad meeting to discuss their below-par defeat in Exeter, with concerns aired about levels of on-field application and enthusiasm. There was full commitment here, even if crossing the try-line remains tricky. "It's a little bit of a problem and definitely the next string to add to our bow," acknowledged McCall, keener to dwell on his players' greater desire. "I felt we re-found ourselves today. We had a meeting and talked about our values and what we wanted as a club. There was a real energy going from one man to the next."

As in previous seasons, the bonding trip to the Oktoberfest is designed to strengthen that collective spirit still further, although McCall and the captain, Steve Borthwick, will fulfil the club's obligations at Monday's Heineken Cup launch in Isleworth. Harlequins' Conor O'Shea and Chris Robshaw will also be in attendance, attempting to forget a defeat which will nag away at everyone concerned. Evans even took to Twitter to apologise to Quins supporters for failing to nail four penalties, one of which hit a post.

As ever, it was hardly one man's fault alone. If Quins were slightly fortunate that their solitary try, courtesy of a sniping run by Danny Care a couple of minutes before half-time, was not ruled out because of an apparent knock-on by the England scrum-half at the preceding ruck, they were flummoxed by Saracens' two-man tackling technique which stifled their off-loading game.

As O'Shea correctly observed, it did nothing for the spectacle and the game was frustratingly stop-start for lengthy periods. "It became the game they wanted to play," confirmed O'Shea, whose team's rhythm also suffered when Joe Gray and Matt Hopper suffered first-quarter head knocks. "It wasn't a great game but it was tight as you'd expect big games to be. We should have won but we didn't."

In between the shuddering tackles and frequent stoppages, there was at least an intriguing sub-plot at full-back, with Mike Brown and Alex Goode both hoping to fill the autumn Test gap left by Ben Foden's untimely ankle injury. Brown had the more striking impact, putting in one outstanding try-saving tackle on Chris Ashton and popping up in most of Quins's brighter attacking efforts.

Goode, capped in South Africa this summer after Brown broke a thumb, was busy, too, but his team created little save from turnover ball. Brad Barritt and Jordan Turner-Hall largely cancelled each other out in midfield and when Ashton did finally get another sniff following a break and chip ahead by Schalk Brits, the covering Brown did just enough to clear the danger. Half-time was enlivened by the appearance of local resident Mo Farah, the double Olympic gold medallist, although one spectator had to endure a nasty moment shortly after the restart. The pint-laden gentleman was poleaxed by a clearance kick from Evans as he emerged from the main bar, losing both his footing and his drinks after being struck flush on the head. It was a rare moment of comedy, with Quins unable to capitalise even after the replacement George Kruis had been sin-binned and Evans had landed the resultant penalty to regain the lead at 16-15. Farrell duly closed the coffin lid with his sixth kick from right in front with six minutes left, a far cry from his display at Wembley earlier this month which cost his team victory over Leicester.

For the ever-competitive Farrell, who turned 21 last week, it was the perfect riposte to those wondering if he is the man to wear the England no 10 shirt in November. He has been back working hard on his kicking since recovering from a slight groin problem and now appears fully back in the swing of things. If Saracens can start scoring tries as well, the Oktoberfest will have refreshed parts the club's coaches have failed to reach.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Robert Kitson at The Stoop, for The Guardian on Sunday 30th September 2012 18.46 Europe/London

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