Saturday 24th March 2018: Aviva Premiership Round 18: Saracens v Harlequins at the London Stadium: Result – Saracens 24 Harlequins 11: latest league positions – Saracens 2nd on 57 points, Harlequins 9th on 36 points.
Despite having just bought tickets to go to the last home match of the season – on 5th May against Exeter Chiefs, reigning champions and runaway (8 point) leaders of the league this season – at the behest of an old friend who happens to be a Chiefs fan, I continue to follow the fortunes of the men in quartered-coloured shirts from the safety of my television sofa.
Yesterday I watched the latest clash between Saracens and Quins at, of all places – for reasons which initially escaped me – the London (2012 Olympics) Stadium. That said, I later concluded that the venue must have been chosen as part of some ongoing Premiership clubs’ collective campaign to ‘take the game to the masses’.
This might have been erroneously thought to have been a success in some quarters in the sense that some 55,000 souls were drawn to the game but – based upon the quality of fare placed before them and the general lack of atmosphere – frankly it went off at half-cock, largely thanks to the antics of the packs who contrived to make the scrum set-pieces, beset by collapses and general farting about at the ‘engage’, a complete farce.
If I heard the justifiably-exasperated BT Sports commentator Alastair Eykyn correctly (I was half asleep by then) as the last ten minutes of proceedings ticked slowly away there had already been 13 minutes’ worth of ‘non-playing’ dickering about at scrum-time during the second half at which referee Tom Foley seemed powerless to take control, e.g. by sending a prop on each side to the bin which – had I been in charge – I would have done within a quarter of an hour of the kick-off.
Sad to relate, from Quins’ point of view, this encounter ran totally true to form – Saracens won at a canter even though they had effectively fielded what amounted to a second XV because of key players being either injured or rested in advance of more difficult and important matches to come. Against a team like Quins who, notwithstanding all their huffing and puffing, mentally barely turned up and were just going through the motions, teams in contention for end-of-season honours don’t need to do much more.
This was a poor-quality and instantly forgettable game, a stop-start affair with very little to commend it.
Those at the helm of the Premiership game will have been kidding themselves if they ever thought exercises such as playing games at novel venues and mounting huge marketing exercises in order to attract new converts to the sport would, as night follows day, grow the appeal of the sport.
They should either accept that rugby union is an acquired taste for a modern mass market and merely seek to develop it (if they can) organically – or else take a serious look at the laws of the game and the schemes and tactics that they prompt coaches to deploy – in order to make it flow better and thereby present something more entertaining than this dross.
For all its many stirring and wonderful attributes, the game of rugby union will be going nowhere fast as long as it produces snore-bore afternoons like yesterday’s.