Sunday 3rd November: Aviva Premiership Round 10: Harlequins v Saracens @ the Stoop, kick-off 3.00pm: Result – Harlequins 20: Saracens 19: Latest league positions: Saracens 3rd on 31 points, Harlequins 7th on 24 points.
I watched this programme on BT Sport in the comfort of my home sitting room.
Both teams desperately needed the victory: for Saracens another loss would have been their third consecutive Premiership defeat, for Quins it would have meant sinking to 10th in the league table with only the hapless Worcester Warriors and London Irish beneath them – teetering on the edge of a potential relegation dogfight.
No use in disguising it, in advance I had feared the worst and, with both sides putting out (allowing for their inevitable long injury lists) their best available teams in honour of what is always a feisty London ‘bragging rights’ derby, pundits and fans of both clubs could not fail to predict an away win: on paper the visitors’ matchday 23 would have a fair chance of finishing in the top three if they were allowed to play in a Six Nations tournament whilst Quins have been performing like a bunch of skittish teenage girls at their first school dance over the past month.
Once Saracens had come out of the blocks at a fair old rip, scything through the Quins midfield like a knife through butter for Brad Barritt to score beside the posts at only 1 minute 37 into the game, I hurriedly finished my cup of tea and crumpets with butter & marmite and felt like retiring to watch the remainder of the game on my knees clutching a large yellow cushion in front of my face behind the sofa.
[Here, once again I would refer Rust readers to their favourite broadsheet newspaper if they wish to read a detailed report of what occurred].
From my angle as a fan it was just another one of those mad, wonderful nights that occasionally occur down at the Stoop when – from out of the blue, against all expectation and logic – Quins somehow overturn form, omens and often the way a game is developing to throw caution to the win and somehow claw a last-minute victory from the jaws of certain defeat.
In other words, another mind-twisting example of them living up to their reputation as a club destined to be an eternal also-ran at the season-long task of climbing up the slippery pole of a league table and yet – on their day – capable of pulling off extraordinary one-off victories in a thrilling, life-enhancing fashion for which (some like to think) Quins seem to possess the original mould and trademark.
Last night’s outcome was all the more spectacular because it was almost against type. I’d venture to suggest that fear might have had something to do with it – sometimes, when you are cornered and everything seems to be against you, there is no alternative but to fight to the death.
Quins had come to the table with a late line-up change: Marcus Smith, our 18 year old current rising star at fly half, had failed a head injury fitness test and was replaced at the last minute by another youngster – James Lang, just two years older. He took a bang to the shoulder during the passage leading to the Sarries’ early try and for a while drew regular attention from the medics but stayed on the pitch and grew into the game.
This being a London derby – and no doubt revved up by the coaches – Quins had clearly opted to take on the visitors up-front (probably on the basis that if we didn’t we risked losing by 20 to 30 points).
As a result our diminutive referee Luke Pearce had a busy time of it dealing with numerous minor incidents of pushing and shoving, ‘hangbags’ on and off the ball and at one stage a prolonged ugly brawl involving both packs on the halfway line after Sarries’ lock George Kruis ‘left a knee in’ as he ran past the prone Chris Robshaw trapped on the floor at a ruck.
When you compare rugby to its mainstream equivalents this was a quite terrible PR/marketing ‘example’ to set before the public and in particular young kids of both sexes who know little of the game but are perhaps thinking of taking it up (let alone their parents!).
Being blunt, it was an all-out case of wilful ABH on the field of play.
And yet how was it treated – both by those commentating upon it live as it happened and by the pundits reviewing the first half play at the break?
I’ll tell you.
Almost with relish. As far as they were concerned, it was all part of a day at a game of rugby. Better than that, this was a traditional local derby featuring two clubs between whom there is no love lost, “things were therefore always likely to get a bit tasty” … and (their gist was) this unsavoury clash was not just par for the course but even a sign that both packs really cared about the result.
This attitude worries me. For any onlooker who has heard of rugby but never watched a game before – say an alien from Mars – this mass brawl would have raised an eyebrow if not two.
There’s plenty put out about how – like boxing – rugby treats youngsters to respect the rules and the referee, to have self-discipline, to behave properly – just to be a ‘good sort of regular chap’.
And yet this sort of thing happens. It went on for nearly a full minute with the referee repeatedly blowing on his whistle (to no effect at all) and for a period was getting worse, not better, with new players – even backs – running ten or twenty yards to join in.
On a different day, in a different place, and of course in a different sport, three or four players on each team could easily have been given yellow cards or worse. As it was – once a semblance of order had been restored and the warring factions separated – Mr Pearce simply called the captains together, gave them both a rollicking and then time “to talk to their teams” … and that was that.
Of that incident in the overnight reports of the match? Not a dicky-bird of course.
As it was, the game was an out-and-out thriller, finishing with Saracens to all intents home and hosed with ten minutes to go before Quins’ last-ditch kick to the corner, line out and moment of sheer magic from the highly-impressive scrum half maestro Danny Care (an inch-perfect cross-kick to the far wing) gave out monster left winger, Scottish international Tim Visser, a simple run in over the line to complete a one point win.
Deserved man of the match was the indefatigable and inexhaustible former England captain Chris Robshaw.