Now here’s a funny thing – in a re-run of the infamous ‘Bloodgate’ match of 2009, yesterday the Harlequins hosted the mighty Dublin-based Leinster province at the Stoop and not only beat them 24-18 in a full-bloodied contest that either side could have won, but thereby laid a number of issues to rest. And yet afterwards, going for a celebratory drink in the pub and then a lite-bite curry in central Twickenham, I felt ‘flat’, rather than elated and ready for a night on the town. Discuss.
Irish rugby fans rank as some of the best in the world – their hordes travel well and are invariably boisterous, loud and generous in their pursuit of the ‘craic’. Yesterday, somehow, there were far more of them than there should have been at the sold-out Stoop and the lively festive atmosphere was regularly underpinned by loud chants of “Leinst-ERRR!” … “Leinst-ERRR!” …”Leinst-ERRR!” countered by even louder “Harle-QUINS!” … “Harle-QUINS!” … “Harle-QUINS!” from the home fans.
Anyone interested in the detailed ins & outs of the game can read the press or – as I shall do later this morning – watch their full, unexpurgated, recording of the live television coverage.
It’s difficult to claim that, in ‘horses for courses’ terms, Quins excel at any particular type of rugby but, if the two polar opposites are the weekly grind involved in a season-long league table and the uncertainties of knockout cup match play, most of our fans would probably suggest the latter.
Our performances have always tended to blow hot and cold – on any given day we can quite easily lose to – or indeed thrash – anyone. Almost all those in my list of ‘all-time most memorable’ Quins games (home or away) have been epic victories against all the odds, the finest of them all forever being the 2011 Amlin Cup semi-final against Munster away at Thomond Park – to my mind the greatest rugby venue of them all – for which a group of six of us spent a lost weekend ‘on tour’ in Limerick.
Yesterday’s effort did not quite match that. It was not a vintage performance, but it was a win. As Churchill might have put it “Not so much a beginning of the end, more an end of the beginning” as regards Quins’ season, which can now go one of two ways from here.
Leinster, a class act, had picked nine returning internationals and in advance were a justifiably uniform pundits’ pick. Meanwhile Quins were coming off an abject display away against Bath in the Premiership in which the pack had completely disintegrated.
As it was, a stirring ‘backs to the wall’ defensive effort, underpinned by a Joe Marler-led ascendancy in the front row and a wonderful all-court display from the evergreen 36 year-old Nick Easter at Number 8 first saw Quins going toe-to-toe and then – in a purple patch shortly after half-time – take a decisive lead with two well-taken opportunistic tries. Leinster threw everything at us in the last quarter of an hour but just couldn’t break through (all their 18 points came from penalties).
A home fans’ instinctive collective bellow comprised of disbelief, delight, bravura and triumph duly greeted the final whistle.
I cannot quite explain why my post-match reaction was so muted. It may have had something to do with pub drinking from noon and then the game finishing as early as 5.30pm, with the evening still to come. Releasing so much tension and adrenalin, on top of the alcohol consumed, may have contributed to my ‘down’ feeling tinged with great weariness.
Either that, or it may have been the thought of flying out to Dublin for the return match late next Saturday evening …