9th April 2016 – European Challenge Cup Quarter Final – Harlequins v London Irish at the Stoop. Result: Harlequins 38 London Irish 30.
This was a hard-fought, at times entertaining, but ultimately wholly unsatisfying contest that left this Quins fan still sipping from his ‘glass half full’ of Jameson’s (Irish) whiskey – literally.
Irish, of course, have been propping up the Aviva Premiership table all season, now firmly poised over the relegation trap-door, almost certainly to have their fate decided by their clash with their closest fellow strugglers Newcastle Falcons in their next league game.
Our teams have ‘history’, let us say. Long ago Irish were our tenants at the Stoop but the relationship ended in 2000 with some corporate rancour and allegations of poor behaviour and jealously going back and forth, whereupon Irish flounced off to establish a new home base at Reading FC’s Madejski Stadium. Over the last three seasons, despite new owners and all efforts on and off the pitch, they’ve been on the gradual slide – flirting with relegation last year and being firmly rooted to the bottom this.
As I’d taken the opportunity to organise a reunion party with some long-standing Irish supporters, when we gathered together in the bear garden at the Prince Blucher pub on Twickenham Green at 5.00pm (schedule advanced by one hour on the day when some smart alec suggested it, the better to watch the Grand National before having our pre-match ‘livener’ or two) it was inevitably that shared gallows-humour would be on the menu. The Irish boys were anticipating life in the Championship next season and the Quins lads another insipid performance.
Sadly, sometimes in life that the act of contemplating one’s anxieties transforms into a self-fulfilling prophesy. To be fair to them, given that necessarily their priorities lay elsewhere than in this junior European cup competition, the visitors had come to ‘give it a go’ and this they duly did. Overall they had the better of territory and possession and midway through the second half were leading by 12 clear points.
The Harlequins meanwhile played as per normal for 2015-2016 – no lack of apparent commitment and yet devoid of dynamism and confidence – in his media interview afterwards Conor O’Shea described the performance as ‘inconsistent’ and ‘lethargic’. Captain Danny Care and Luke Wallace (who scored five tries between them) excepted, the impartial onlooker could have been forgiven for concluding that Quins were the strugglers and Irish the ones still in the hunt for a top six or even top four finish.
Ultimately Quins prevailed but without rousing their fans – well, save towards the end when, in frustration, we were exhorting our lads to “pull their bloody fingers out!” as we came from behind to snatch victory as the clock was ticking down with alarming rapidity.
Last night I had a thoroughly enjoyable time up in a pub with a bunch of old mates, catching up and swapping tall tales, some of them laden with celebrity showbiz and sporting gossip.
At some point during the evening – it began at 8.05pm thanks to the broadcasters, who naturally pay no regard to the convenience of the paying spectators in determining their schedules – we nipped over to the Stoop to watch a frenetic rugby match of disappointing quality. It was one of those affairs that, had I been sat on the sofa at home viewing it live on BT Sport (as I could have been if I hadn’t bought the tickets), to be frank by half-time I would have been channel-hopping in a quest finding something more worthwhile, possibly non-sporting, to watch.
As it was, I was stuck in a crowded stand in the increasingly cold night air. At least, en route home about 70 minutes before midnight, we stopped off back at the Blucher for ‘one more Jameson’s for the road’ and yet more comradely chat … during which you know what?
The subject of the game’s incidents and outcome never came up once. That tells you all you need to know.