Emily Robinson, England and Harlequins flanker, sent off for headbutt

The headbutt
England and Harlequins flanker Emily Robinson is facing a lengthy ban for headbutting Sydney Gregson of Saracens

Harlequins 0 Saracens 31

England flanker Emily Robinson is facing a lengthy ban for headbutting Sydney Gregson after a meeting between Premiership Women’s Rugby titans Harlequins and Saracens ended in chaos.

Tensions boiled over on a frosty evening in south west London that saw Harlequins handed three yellow cards before flanker Robinson blatantly struck Saracens centre Gregson with her head, after the Saracens centre forcefully pushed 18-year-old Ella Cromack.

Robinson, who was clearly angry at one of her younger team-mates being rounded on, reacted by clearly headbutting the Saracens playmaker.

Referee Mike Hudson immediately intervened and, after consulting with his assistant referee Gareth Holsgrove, sent Robinson off, despite having already signalled the end of the match. “You’ve led with the head, it’s a red card,” he told the seemingly perplexed England flanker, whose solitary Red Roses cap came in England’s 68-5 win over Italy in this year’s Six Nations.

The incident sparked wild scenes of confusion at The Stoop, where fans were making their way to the exits, assuming the match had finished.

“I haven’t reviewed the footage, so I can’t comment,” said Amy Turner, the Harlequins head coach. “It was a reaction to a shove to our 18-year-old, a bit protective. I don’t condone it at all, but I don’t know the severity of it – I didn’t see it – and I haven’t reviewed it. I know PWR are very comprehensive at looking at all incidents and making sure they’re dealt with appropriately.”

Sydney Gregson of Saracens Women looks to pass the ball whilst under pressure from Emily Robinson of Harlequins Women during the Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby match between Harlequins and Saracens
Sydney Gregson (left) was on the receiving end of a headbutt after the final whistle from Emily Robinson (right) - Getty Images/Andrew Redington
Players from both teams greet each other after the Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby match between Harlequins and Saracens at The Stoop on December 02, 2023 in London, England
There was at least some cordiality between the teams at the end - Getty Images/Andrew Redington

Under the RFU’s regulation 19.2, headbutts – which are extremely rare in women’s rugby – carry a minimum six week ban, although more severe punishments can yield suspensions up to 16 weeks.

The incident capped off a miserable evening for Harlequins, who also suffered a major blow after losing hooker Carys Phillips to a serious injury after just five minutes played.

Both teams headed back down the tunnel to keep warm as play was stopped for over quarter of an hour as temperatures plummeted below freezing.

Wales hooker Phillips, who cruelly sustained the injury on her debut in the quartered shirts after signing from Worcester, was eventually carried off on a stretcher. “I haven’t had the medical brief, but she was taken off with pain in her neck,” clarified Taylor.

These two titans have enjoyed some classic meetings over the years but on a chilly night both struggled to impose themselves in a largely attritional contest.

Slowly but surely, Saracens began to eke their way into the match, without fly-half Zoe Harrison, who received one-match ban in the week for hair pulling against Ealing Trailfinders last week.

While their kicking game might have been found wanting, Saracens packed just enough punch with their forward power, with their maul providing a reliable platform. Both May Campbell and Marlie Packer crashed over before the break, as cracks in Harlequins’ energetic defence began to show.

Kate Leaney and Bella McKenzie were both yellow carded within minutes of each other – the latter for a deliberate knock on as Saracens looked ready to pounce –which paved the way for Packer to finish with one of her own trademark moves off a maul.

Marlie Packer celebrates her try
Marlie Packer celebrates her try - Getty Images/Andrew Redington

The visitors kicked on in a dominant second half, which saw Paige Farries bag a brace of tries. Her first was one of the most eye-catching passages of play showcased by either side all afternoon, when Amelia MacDougall, the stand-in Saracens fly-half, sent a sumptuous cross-field kick which was gathered and grounded by the Canadian speedster.

Harlequins, meanwhile, dug themselves deeper into a hole through their own indiscipline. Shaunagh Brown took a turn in the bin late on in the second half as Saracens secured a penalty try and with it, the bonus point, before Robinson lost her head after the whistle blew.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 0-5 Campbell try, 0-7 De Goede con, 0-12 Packer try, 0-17 Farries try, 0-19 De Goede con, 0-26 penalty try, 0-31 Farries try.
Harlequins E Kildunne; I Mayhew (B Wilcock 55), L Tuima, R Burford (E Cromack 70), E Scott; B McKenzie, F Robinson (T Braunerova 75); H Sims (S Cooper 62), C Phillips (S Turani 5), B Latsha (H Duffy 70), S Bonar (A Hele 55), K Leaney, A Fleming (D Lochner 67), E Robinson, S Brown.
Booked: Leaney, McKenzie, Brown.
Sent off: Robinson
Saracens J Breach; P Farries, S Gregson, Sophie Bridger; L Clapp, A MacDougall (C Wardle 74), E Wyrwas (L Infante 67); K Clifford (C Flanagan 74), M Campbell (B Field 71), D Rose (A Gondwe 74), G Evans, R Galligan (E Taylor 67), S De Goede, M Packer (S Kasolo 71), 8. P Cleall (G Moore 71
Referee: Mike Hudson

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