Cold temperatures and winds outside in West Sussex, the food shopping done, a gin & tonic plus two glasses of very acceptable claret and a butternut-squash soup and baguette lunch in your stomach, a bright wood-burning fire blazing in the grate and BT Sport’s live coverage of Harlequins v Northampton Saints from a sold-out (82,000) Twickenham Stadium on the television …
What could be more perfect than that?
Well, nothing beyond perhaps suddenly realising that BT Sport was also showing an earlier Premiership match (Bath v Exeter Chiefs), kicking off at 2.00pm.
Thus it was we settled in for a feast of rugby-watching and the afternoon was done – well, bar comfort breaks and cups of tea, plus mince pies with brandy butter, being served in the half hour between coverage of the one match ending and the second kicking off.
Once again I’m not going to bother you with the details of the game action – you can read the newspapers for that.
Having confidently predicted beforehand that Saints would prevail over Quins by a 15 point margin, you might expect that, as a Quins fan, I would have been pleasantly surprised by a defeat margin of only 25-30. To a degree I was.
However, Saints were indisputably the better team. They were defensively strong and looked bigger and more mature than their opponents. Their scrum was totally dominant and Quins conceded string of penalties (I heard 15 as a count somewhere) all afternoon. However I’m not going to criticise top referee Wayne Barnes, well beyond saying that he has a reputation amongst our fans for being anti-Quins, a notion that he certainly did nothing to dispel in this outing.
Quins were missing senior players Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw, Luke Wallace and Nick Evans, which didn’t help.
According to the statisticians, Saints had just 25% of the possession but (like Quins) scored three tries, one of them a ‘kick-charge-down’ gift from rookie fly half Tim Swiel, but I cannot blame the kid, even though he also missed an easy pot at goal. Elsewhere he completed a magnificent tap-tackle to save a certain try, went ‘that-close’ to scoring a brilliant solo one himself in sparking something of a Quins revival surge in the last ten minutes.
Saints are deservedly going to be in the mix for most competitions this term. As for Quins, the best hope of a pot may be the European Rugby Champions Cup (if we can progress beyond the group stage). Still in 9th place, it’s going to take another monumental effort and some luck along the way for us to make the Premiership play-offs now.