As the mass of spectators moved slowly out of the stands last night to the Stoop’s long-favoured accompaniment of Reef’s 1996 raw, edgy belter Place Your Hands On – with its infectious refrain exhorting “Put Your Hands On!”, which for over a decade I had misheard as “Put Your Hands Up!” until I looked up the ditty on YouTube – followed by a series of the rockier ‘usual suspect’ Christmas-time hits, you might have thought that we home fans would have been feeling at one with the world and quietly satisfied with 4 points.
Instead yesterday’s 15-7 victory (five penalties from five attempts by South African rookie stand-in fly half Tim Swiel, a warmly-welcomed improvement from him) was yet another frustrating Quins outing to add to 2014’s long list.
Let’s get the excuses out of the way first. Two brutal encounters with Leinster in a fortnight had left some stalwarts injured (not least Chris Robshaw out for four weeks with a shoulder and Luke Wallace for six with a broken hand) and others battered enough to need a rest. In consequence we had 19-year-old James Chisholm making his Premiership starting debut in a pack with an average age of just 23.8 and overall a very much ‘make-do-and-mend’ look to the line-up.
Newcastle, at 10th in the league only one place behind Quins, would never have come to lie down meekly. Especially not with the iconic Deano (Dean Richards, he of Bloodgate infamy) making his first return to the Stoop. Frankly, with their preponderance of Pacific Islanders (not least two Tuilagis) on hand, the Falcons looked an average of two stone heavier, even amongst the backs. To be fair to them, on the day they played well and probably had 65% of the possession. Unusually, at times our tackling of their bigger men was worryingly hesitant.
The bottom line is that – for all the efforts of the players – this was a turgid, forgettable match, the kind of affair that gives rugby union a bad name. At half-time the score would have been 3-0 to Quins if Newcastle had not scored a converted try in overtime, which says all anyone needs to know about the quality of the action to that point.
The Stoop’s atmosphere can match any in the Premiership, though sometimes the Quins crowd can be slow to warm up.
But you know what? The truth is that the best – some might say, the only way – to get the crowd right behind the team is to play well and win.
The relationship between any team and its fans is a two-way thing. If the Quins are playing as only they can, win or lose, the crowd rocks like there’s no tomorrow. However – if out on the pitch the team is becalmed in the doldrums – you can try any gimmick you like to whip the fans into a frenzy but it is always going to be an uphill task.
Well before half-time yesterday – in a direct response to what we’d witnessed so far – my section of the LV= Stand had lost interest and was chatting about other things. Some of us were even wishing that we’d stayed at home or (God forbid) gone Christmas shopping instead.
Yes, it was that bad. But it was that sort of game.