Ugo Monye exclusive: Harlequins players do not respect Saracens as a club – this Premiership semi-final is going to be a bear-pit brawl

Ugo Monye takes us inside one of the most bitter rivalries in recent years as five-time winners Saracens take on defending champions Harlequins for a place in the 18 June final at Twickenham - live on BT Sport

Published: 10 June 2022 - 11.19am
Premiership Rugby Saracens Harlequins
Ugo Monye lifts the lid on one of the most bitter rivalries in Premiership rugby as the two London clubs prepare to do battle this weekend

Part one of our Premiership semi-final double header sees five-time champions Saracens entertain holders Harlequins at the StoneX Stadium in a high-stakes London derby. 

For Saracens, it's a first appearance in the last four since their relegation to the Championship in 2020, while defending champions Harlequins are hoping to become the first team to go back-to-back in the league since - you guessed it - Sarries in 2019.

In a rivalry that has threatened to boil over in recent years, expect fireworks as two London juggernauts battle it out for a place in the June 18 showpiece at Twickenham.

Ahead of what is set to be an unmissable semi-final showdown Ugo Monye, Premiership champion with Harlequins back in 2012, takes us inside the feud that will be settled this weekend.

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The roots of a bitter rivalry

This semi-final has got absolutely everything that gets me excited about knockout sport.

The history, the rivalry, the emotion, the clash of style... I’m genuinely bouncing for this weekend.

It’s one of the few games that you wish you could be a part of but it’s going to be an honour to be there this weekend.

The StoneX will be like a gladiatorial amphitheatre – it’s going to be proper bear pit stuff between two sides who cannot stand each other!

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A lot of water's gone under the bridge.

There’s always been that rivalry between the two teams in terms of England selection.

It used to be Alex Goode fighting with Mike Brown for the 15 shirt, me up against Chris Ashton, Danny Care and Richard Wiggelsworth battling it out at scrum-half – and there’s still so many of those head-to-head duels today.

Billy Vunipola has been usurped by Alex Dombrandt in England’s back-row and he will have a massive point to prove this weekend.

Up front, Mako Vunipola has taken Joe Marler’s spot in Eddie Jones’s most recent England camp, while the golden boy of English rugby, Marcus Smith, will want to show he can boss it in the big matches in this league.

He doesn’t really have anything left to prove but it’s another chance for him to show he's a man for the big stage.

But underneath all that, what underpins the animosity between the two clubs is the salary cap scandal.

My mind goes back to May 17, 2014, a landmark day in the rivalry, the last time Harlequins played Saracens in a Premiership semi-final.

I was part of that game and we believe we lost that day as a direct consequence of Saracens breaching the salary cap rules.

It’s been documented and it’s not something we need to dwell on but it’s also pertinent when you talk about why there is such mutual disdain between these two sides.

There’s a lot of respect between the players, but I don’t think there’s a lot of respect between the clubs.

Harlequins respect the players on the pitch but they don’t respect Saracens as a club. There’s a big distinction between the two and that’s become the foundation of the rivalry.

Harlequins were always Saracens’ most outspoken critics and all of that will come to a head this weekend.

A clash of styles

Saracens have flown under the radar for the majority of the season but what better way to announce yourself back in the big time than to beat your bitter local rivals and get yourself back to Twickenham at the first time of asking.

For Harlequins, they’re the only side left in competition who reached this stage last season and that will give them confidence.

It’s a one-off knockout match and anything could happen.

It feels like there’s so much more on the line than a place in the final, but the players have to put everything else aside and retain their focus.

It used to be said that Quins were too inconsistent and flakey to challenge at English rugby's top table on a consistent basis but this side flipped that narartive on its head last season.

They won the Premiership in their own unique way and showed everyone that you can win the title by throwing the ball around.

I think they’re going to have to adapt the way they play this weekend, which is testament to how good Saracens are.

There is a real contrast in styles, personalities and DNA but that’s what we love about the Premiership.

We’ve got two teams in the top four who play a pragmatic style which is effective and efficient in Tigers and Saracens, up against two entertainers in Northampton and Harlequins.

I can't wait to see whether entertainment and expression can win out against pragmatism.

Saracens vs Harlequins is the the first part of a mouth-watering double bill of Premiership semi-final action as Leicester take on Northampton straight after the final whistle at StoneX Stadium.

Tune into BT Sport 1HD from 1pm to follow all the action - or catch up on the app with our enhanced player.