Ben Earl is still traumatised by Harlequins’ sensational comeback in last season’s Gallagher Premiership semi-finals.
Earl will face the English champions at the same stage on Saturday, but this time it will be for Saracens following a year spent on loan at Bristol while his parent club campaigned in the Championship as punishment for persistent salary cap breaches.
Even by their standards Quins’ resurrection at Ashton Gate a year ago was remarkable as they fought back from a 28-0 deficit to win 43-36 after extra-time before going on to topple Exeter in the final.
Earl was in Bristol’s back row that day and the collapse has still left its mark while at the same time offering an insight into the danger posed by Saracens’ opponents at StoneX Stadium.
“I certainly don’t think I’m over it, even now. It was a pretty scarring experience, that’s for sure,” Earl said.
“The lessons I learned from it are amazing – that against this type of opposition the game is never over.
“You can be 20 points up with 10 minutes to go, then they score three tries just like that and you’re up against it.
“Rugby is probably the most momentum-based game out there. If we lose that foothold in the game then we can expect a very tough afternoon.
“You need to stay alive to everything they do – quick tap penalties, quick throw-ins off the line-out.
“But there’s another aspect to it and that’s that we can control this game, we can control the tempo of the game, by doing the things that we do unbelievably well.
“We know that Quins will have their moments in the game, it’s about how we can stay in the fight. We need a full 80-minute performance.
“Trust me, I’ve witnessed it when you don’t put together a full 80-minute performance against Quins. You come away very, very disappointed.”
Earl’s blockbusting form has helped Saracens return to the play-offs at the first time of asking following their season-long exile in the second tier and he takes his customary place at openside for an historically stormy London derby.
The 24-year-old was crowned Premiership player of the year on Tuesday, yet has not had a look in with in England since the 2021 Six Nations when he won the last of his 13 caps.
“When you see guys get a few caps with England then fall off the face of the earth, I definitely didn’t want to be that type of person,” Earl said.
“I’m still incredibly driven to play international rugby. I feel really fortunate to be playing for Sarries and to be pushing at these big games and to keep putting my hand up.
“If the opportunity doesn’t come at least I know I’ve tried my best. If it does come, then happy days.”