This was an odd one. From a fan’s point of view, a five point victory is a five point victory and scoring seven tries against a side you’ve nilled ought to be a cause for celebration, especially when – like Quins – you’ve been on a worrying run of indifferent results and performances.
On the other hand, the fortunes of London Welsh since the club’s promotion in May from the Championship back to the Premiership has raised many issues.
During the summer they effectively let 25 or more players go – and replaced them with 25 ‘new’ ones, amongst them classy thirty-somethings such as lock Dean Schofield, All Black Piri Weepu and fly half Olly Barclay – in an effort to match up to the big boys in the top division.
No doubt at the time, no matter what the exorbitant cost, the London Welsh management doing those deals must have felt a degree of quiet satisfaction as the new season approached. On paper at least, they seemed to have acquired a team capable of avoiding relegation.
Sadly, things have not gone according to plan. Welsh have shipped an average in excess of 40 points in their five matches so far. For all their ‘paper’ quality and undoubted effort on the pitch, they really have been that bad.
There might be a wider positive to be had in the thought that the Welsh experience seems to have proved with bells on that you cannot just buy a successful rugby team.
However, it also raises the old chestnut (always hovering away in the background) that maybe the gulf in sheer class, beef and competitiveness between the Premiership and the Championship is so great that relegation/promotion ought to be done away with. This would of course suit the Premiership teams – well, certainly those safe in the Premiership at the point that a decision to axe relegation came into effect!
There are four, perhaps five, Championship teams with serious Premiership ambitions. There are about another dozen Championship (or near-Championship) teams whose business plans are built upon just surviving in the Championship. These teams have no interest in promotion to the Premiership because their lack of a sugar daddy (or other means of funding) would render such an adventure financially disastrous.
For the regulars around me in what used to be called the West Stand at the Stoop, the above were the main topics of conversation as yesterday’s events unfolded.
Despite the gallows humour doing the rounds regarding the Harlequins efforts since September, the result was never in doubt once Mike Brown and Danny Care had scored the first two tries (successful conversions added by the revitalised Nick Evans) for a 14-0 lead after about twelve minutes. To be frank, for the home team, the contest was no more taxing that a training run.
The key playing issues became whether Quins could notch 40 points and whether their players would continue to turn the screw – as a Southern Hemisphere team would – right to the last minute of extra time … or whether instead they’d ease off the pedal and flood the pitch with substitutes in order to protect our most precious first team starters, and thereby perhaps undermine team momentum.
In the end, it didn’t really matter.
The surreal start to the season seems to have no end. Yesterday Quins – who surrendered 0-39 to Saracens a fortnight ago – ended 52 points to the good. Elsewhere Leicester got thrashed for the third successive match (36-13), this time by Gloucester down at Kingsholm.
I’m not quite sure what to expect next …