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Overeas wrap: Sarries on top

 Mar 24,2014
Written by: Ross Hastie
 

Saracens moved to the top of the Aviva Premiership standings on Saturday as they outscored Harlequins five tries to two to win 39-17 in front of a world-record crowd at Wembley.

This season's English championship has developed into a two-horse race between Sarries and Northampton, but the north London team took the lead over the weekend after Saints conceded just their second defeat of the season, away to Sale Sharks.

A crowd of 83,889 spectators turned out at Wembley as Sarries continue to come up with innovative ways of attracting spectators, which has included beer promotions and free tickets depending on who scores.

Once again Saracens' South African contingent was at the forefront of their success, with hooker Schalk Brits leading the way while Ernst Joubert and Nambian Jacques Burger also put in big shifts. Burger secured the bonus point with a late try after a break from Brits.

Saracens are still gunning for a Premiership and Heineken Cup double this season - they face Ulster in the European quarter-finals in a fortnight.

The squad arrived in New York City on Sunday for a three-day bonding trip to recharge their batteries.

"It really adds a lot of value, even though people don't see it that way," said Burger of the trip.

"We want to go out there and bleed for each other and do absolutely everything for each other. In order to do that, you have to spend time together and really become friends and become close."

Over in France, former Springbok flank Juan Smith has extended his contract with Toulon until 2016.

The former Cheetahs stalwart, who is now 32, has become a regular feature in the European champions' starting XV as he continues his remarkable comeback from a series of potentially career-ending Achilles tendon injuries.

Toulon dropped to second in the Top 14 standings on Friday after a narrow 22-16 loss away to new leaders Clermont, who extended their astonishing unbeaten streak on home soil to 74 games.

The southern hemisphere exodus to France continues unabated as Stormers full-back/wing Gio Aplon became the latest Springbok to head to the Top 14 after his signature at Grenoble was confirmed on Monday.

One player who may be reconsidering his time in France however is Joe Pietersen as his club, Biarritz, are now sure to be relegated after losing in Perpignan on Saturday.

The other big result of the weekend saw Toulouse make an incredible comeback from 27-5 down to snatch a 27-all draw against old rivals Stade Français thanks to a last-minute try at the Stade de France.

Springbok scrum-half Jano Vermaak scored one of Toulouse's four tries as the former European champions look to be returning to top form at just the right time. They face Toulon this weekend before their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster a week later.

 

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