Preoccupied with email correspondence, last night I suddenly ‘came to’ at about 6.50pm, realised that it was only 40 minutes to kick-off in the Quins versus Bristol ‘A’ league friendly match, and had to get a wriggle on to get to the Stoop in time.
With apologies for repeating myself, I like to make it to our ‘A’ League games in and around London whenever I can – they’re usually played on Monday evenings, when there’s never anything worth watching on TV – because you get to see and assess the progress of some of those coming back to match fitness from injury; those who are in the first team squad but aren’t getting much game time; and (most particularly) the youngsters in the academy.
They’re also a useful opportunity to view the inner workings of the club – last night I passed Conor O’Shea on the concourse carrying two polystyrene boxes full of fast food fresh from the members’ bar. I also spotted first-teamers George Robson, Kyle Sinkler, Joe Marler and Luke Wallace, all dressed in ‘civvies’, arriving to watch proceedings, all stopping to chat the fans they came across. It was a cold night and I should estimate the crowd was about 1,000 strong.
Already the smart money has it that promotion to the Premiership from the Championship at the end of the season will be between Dean Ryan’s Worcester Warriors and Andy Robinson’s Bristol Rugby.
Neither is short of cash – Worcester only went down last season and thus possess a sizeable parachute payment to allow them to keep their Premiership-expensive players for at least a season, whilst Bristol are not only (through the vagaries of the Premiership club’s cartel system) still shareholders in the governing Premiership Rugby organisation even though it’s four years since they got relegated, but also have a newish ‘sugar daddy owner’ set-up.
Bristol had come tooled with raft of first-team squad players, fully intent on making a “We’re already Premiership standard” statement. They were big, fit and well-drilled.
In contrast, Quins were fielding a motley makeshift crew of first-team squadders as starters, along with trialist No 8 Netani Talei, plus a mix of the usual suspects (Jordan Turner-Hall, Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Lois Grimoldy) and academy kids or surprise guests from other clubs.
The half-time score was 7-17 to Bristol, which was a fair reflection of what we’d seen to that point.
The home team didn’t look like a side that had played together before – well, that much was true – whereas Bristol definitely did. Spilling the ball in the tackle and dropping passes seemed a popular pastime on both sides and I was frustrated that the referee never gained control over the scrum – there were endless collapses and re-sets. If he’d got tough with the front rows, yes even issued a yellow card to someone (it wouldn’t have mattered who) they’d have taken him more seriously.
In the second half Quins gradually came into it more though remaining well down on the scoreboard. Things could have got worse when it became ‘all change’ in terms of bringing on the substitutes with 20 minutes to go, but in fact the urgency improved as Bristol gradually tired. With two minutes to the final whistle a deft kick sent out wide by Grimoldy allowed academy flanker Henry Cheeseman – who impressed when he came on – to fling himself into a dive to touch down inches from the dead ball line to take us ahead 22-20, after which Grimoldy added the extras.
Speedster Charlie Walker, rumoured to be leaving in order to get more first-team game time, showed what we’d be missing with his two spectacular tries. Jordan Burns, substitute scrum half, played well. His service from the base of the scrum was an improvement upon Tebaldi’s and for the first time ever he looked like a proper 9. He may yet have a future.
Overall, a worthwhile encounter. The Quins boys benefited from the game time and – on this evidence – Bristol would not disgrace the Premiership next season if they do make it.