McCall salutes 'full of energy' Itoje as Saracens beat Quins


London (AFP)

Saracens coach Mark McCall insisted Maro Itoje was "full of energy" as the England lock impressed during his side's 24-11 Premiership win over London rivals Harlequins on Saturday.

Clive Woodward, England's 2003 World Cup-winning boss, suggested Itoje looked "out on his feet" during a desperately disappointing Six Nations campaign that ended last week when a defeat by Grand Slam champions Ireland meant the Red Rose suffered a third successive loss and finished fifth -- their worst Championship performance in more than 30 years.

The form of Itoje and several England players who toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions last year re-opened the debate about whether they were playing too much, particularly for their clubs, in contrast to their centrally-contracted Irish counterparts.

But the 23-year-old Itoje was in sparkling form for Sarries at the London Stadium, scoring the European champions' second try with a surging run that saw him fend off a quartet of Quins players en route to the line.

Victory left Saracens second in the table and on course for a top-four finish that will guarantee a place in title-deciding play-offs with four league games of the regular season remaining.

- 'No surprise' -

"Maro was brilliant and looked like he was full of energy, full of life and he was deservedly man of the match," McCall said.

"It will give him a lot of confidence going into next weekend, but his performance wasn't a surprise to us.

"Sometimes when people tell you that you look tired then you can feel tired, but Maro is not that kind of individual and I think he proved that."

Meanwhile former Ireland international McCall said it was still doubtful whether Itoje's fellow England internationals Owen Farrell (quadricep) and George Kruis (back) would be fit to return for next weekend's European Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster.

Elsewhere, Newcastle boss Dean Richards was delighted by the decision to play at St James' Park -- the home of Newcastle United football club -- as the Falcons went third with a 25-22 win over Northampton in front of a crowd of more than 30,000.

"St James' is a fantastic stadium which we've known since the World Cup here in 2015 and were were just itching to get here and play and with a crowd of 30,000 I think the atmosphere was absolutely brilliant on the day," said Richards after the Falcons more than doubled their previous best attendance.

"It was a proper game of rugby as well and we got over the line in the end."

Toby Flood kicked six penalties for the Falcons, with the former England international also converting their only try from Vereniki Goneva.

Northampton found themselves on the losing side despite scoring three tries through David Ribbans, Rob Horne and Nafi Tuitavake but veteran Australian coach Alan Gaffney said the Saints had only themselves to blame for a high penalty count.

"Our discipline let us down again," he said. "We gave Toby Flood seven penalty kicks at goal and he got six of them - that's a result of schoolboy errors and it's been a problem all season.

"It's very frustrating to score three tries to one and lose the game."

Sale moved up to sixth with a 58-25 thrashing of Worcester while London Irish's new technical consultant Declan Kidney saw the bottom-of-the-table Exiles move closer to relegation after a 33-29 loss to Gloucester.

"I've seen the structure in behind the club," former Ireland coach Kidney said. "I believe it is strong enough to be there (in the Premiership), absolutely.

"There were things to encourage me today, but we still lost. That is the flip side of the coin."