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One that went off half-cock

Saturday 30th December 2017: Aviva Premiership, Round 12: Harlequins v Northampton Saints at Twickenham Stadium (Big Game 10), kick off 4.00pm: Result – Harlequins 50 (league points 5) Northampton Saints 21 (league points 0): new league table positions – Harlequins now 7th on 30 points, Northampton Saints now 10th on 22 points.

Before I begin, let me remind both my Rust readers how these things work.

The Harlequins play a match. I either watch it or I don’t. I then compose and post my blog upon the game without reading any media reports – this so that I don’t just re-hash either the blow-by-blow of what happened or indeed other people’s opinions (and indeed those of people whose profession it is to give them and are therefore probably, by definition, better at doing it than me). My purpose in operating in this fashion is in the interests of Rust readers. If they want a blow-by-blow account of Quins’ latest game they can just go to their newspaper report of choice; and, if they want opinion upon the match and/or its issues arising, they can either read those of the experts … or (for example) those of someone like me who is just a fan.

Yesterday’s was the tenth consecutive year that Quins have ‘hosted’ a heavily-promoted Christmas/New Year Premiership match at Twickenham Stadium – the clue is in the title “Big Game 10”. This year it allegedly attracted just over 77,000 spectators, the highest total for any Premiership match in 2017. Call me old-fashioned and a loser, but – as someone looking on television from the comfort of my sofa – I can only say I was once again confirmed in my long-held opinion that I was glad not to be there in person. Twickenham is invariably a soulless place whose match atmospheres rarely (and usually only at key England Six Nation home matches) rise above the ordinary.

Yesterday’s was a case in point.

Earlier this week Quins and England full back Mike Brown had given an interview bemoaning Quins’ eternal capacity to play like gods and down a top team one week … and then immediately go on to lose three matches out of three abjectly against lowly opposition. They have a long-held reputation for this but unfortunately this season it’s become a chronic disease.

The one thing historically that Quins have going for them as a playing club is their ability – in a one-off (often cup) game – against all logic and odds to blitz or out-think and blow away anyone.

There have been some absolute ding-dong Big Matches over the years. Indelibly etched in my memory in particular is Big Game 8 on 27th December 2015 (Quins v Gloucester) in which Quins came out like ferrets on steroids, rushed out to a big lead … and then suddenly Gloucester – totally against their normal type at the time – suddenly got the bug, also threw caution to the winds and came roaring back … the second half became chaotic madness to an unbelievable degree … and the game eventually ended in an epic 39-39 draw.

As a contest, yesterday’s was a pretty dreadful rugger match because only one side turned up.

Both teams have had poor seasons so far – they were sitting ninth and tenth in the league before this clash – and whenever Quins and Saints fans have got together in the past two seasons it’s been a toss-up as to which set feels more suicidal and/or in need of a large drink.

Saints have slipped so low that they axed their head coach Jim Mallinder ten days ago without having any idea who was going to replace him – although we now know it’s going to be 71 year old Aussie Alan Gaffney, at least temporarily until the end of this season.

The upshot was that all day the body language of the Saints team was hang-dog “We don’t want to be here” and they certainly played like it. If I mention that they were 0-31 down at half-time, that Quins scored 7 tries in all and that Saints only notched 21 points in the second half on account of the fact that [annoyingly, because a really great team would have kept concentrating right to the end and ‘nilled’ such poor opposition] Quins switched off and started playing as if they were on a holiday break on Copacabana Beach, Rio. This was fun to watch – by this time in my household we were feeling sorry for the Saints players – albeit, as some French military onlooker might almost have said (but didn’t) of the famous Charge Of The Light Brigade – “… Mais ce n’est pas la cricket …

Danny Care, Marcus Smith, Jamie Roberts, James Chisholm, Mike Brown, Tim Visser and captain on the day Dave Ward all played outstandingly well for Quins but sadly it was never a case of one team rising to the occasion and playing out of its skin – the truth is that Northampton Saints were terrible from start to finish.

They fell off tackles, they were second best in every facet of the game, and even when they were ball in hand they either dropped it, fumbled, tripped up and/or made basic technical errors such as (several times) passing the ball straight into touch. It was pitiful.

To cap it all (I’m sorry to add) on yesterday’s showing England captain Dylan Hartley is not remotely in the form to justify his place in a Saints’ matchday 23, let alone an England one.

If memory serves, his tackling stats were ‘6 made, 5 missed’. His throwing-in stats at line-out time can only have been similar. I’m reluctant to ‘kick a horse when it’s down’, but frankly it’s time for the jobsworths to bring out the screens and call for a vet and a gun – he urgently needs putting out of his misery at the moment.

About Derek Williams

A recently-retired actuary, the long-suffering Derek has been a Quins fan for the best part of three decades. More Posts