Friday 15th December 2017: European Champions Cup Rugby Pool 1, Round 4: Ulster v Harlequins at the Kingspan Stadium; Result – Ulster 52 Harlequins 24: Pool standings – Ulster 2nd on 13 points, Harlequins 4th and bottom on 2 points. Almost certain to progress into the knock-out stage La Rochelle (in first position) and Ulster (in second).
I have to report to Rust readers that I did not watch this game, having instead opted to go to the pub with my mates in order to avoid doing so, and therefore would suggest those who wish to know anything about the game to read the newspapers and/or social media.
The truth is that this was a dead rubber because Quins were already out of contention to progress out of Pool 1 – their first campaign back in the elite European club tournament an out-and-out failure – and so the pressure buttons for both teams (and perhaps some minds) were set to the ‘off’ position.
The omens and recent history were also unfavourable: this was the fifth-ever meeting between the two teams, Quins winning the first two and, as of last night, Ulster now the next three in a row; furthermore, in this competition Quins have now won just twice on the road in Ireland in eight attempts.
One can only repeat that Quins have genuinely had an horrendous prolonged injury list this term which has undoubtedly affected form and results. For last night’s trip they were without Chris Robshaw and Danny Care (both still ‘off games’ with concussion sustained in the equivalent match against Ulster at the Stoop last weekend) and, to be honest with you, it wouldn’t have surprised me – nor would I have blamed the head coach John Kingston – if these and/or other important players had been ‘rested’ … why risk injuring your key men in a tough game against Ulster away when you’re already out of the competition?
It’s a sad but understandable factor of modern professional sport. Never mind the paying spectators who might like or expect their team to put out its best available XV every time, there are greater imperatives driving English elite rugby clubs these days – i.e. avoiding Premiership relegation and staying in contention for a top six league finish in order to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup, even if you have literally just been dumped out of this one.