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Another one missed I’m afraid

Friday 10th February 2017: Aviva Premiership; Bristol Rugby v Harlequins at Ashton Gate: Result – Bristol Rugby 8 Harlequins 42: Harlequins 5 league points for a (4 try) bonus point victory.

Here’s another advance warning: this is another non-report from your Quins correspondent, which now makes two in about three weeks.

My personal quest this year was to cover the club’s 2016-2017 season as comprehensively as I could and, in one sense, I have been doing that. However, I was not in a position to attend last night’s away match – nor indeed the recent one against Worcester Warriors down at Sixways – and since (as far as I could tell) neither were apparently covered on television, radio or internet, I had no means of following them live or knowing what the hell went on until the match reports started appearing in the media.

No point in gilding the lily or ‘making it up and pretending’, therefore. All I know is that we won both games – so let’s leave it at that. Well, perhaps save to mention that – temporarily at least – it renders Quins at fifth position in the Premiership table.

For reasons which I cannot quite explain – possibly the forthcoming British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand may be a factor – I’ve been quite caught up in the hype surrounding this season’s Six Nations tournament and will be settling down in front of the television this afternoon to watch Wales’s clash with England at the Principality Stadium (as we must now learn to call it).

England played very poorly in the first half against France last weekend. Half the trouble with sporting contest build-ups are the inevitable ‘painting by numbers’ interviews with the protagonists in the build-up:

This years’ tournament is vitally important … we’ve had tremendous sessions in camp … we are fully prepared for anything and are ready to rock  … the first fifteen minutes will set the tone of the match, we all know what the French are like, so we’ve got to be prepared to set off like a rocket …

And then pouf! [collapse of hot air balloon] – and England begin playing as if they’ve spent the past 96 hours consuming handfuls of tranquilizers before and after their ‘four times per day’ protein-rich meals and in the end, and only with a desperate last throw or two of the dice and Eddie Jones throwing on the 7th Cavalry in the form of his substitutes’ bench, do the hosts squeak out a three-point margin victory.

Not good enough. And certainly not good enough to guarantee a triumph in Cardiff this afternoon.

BrownFrom a Quins’ point of view the omens are mixed. I thought Mike Brown had a good match against the French, at least in terms of what he always brings to an England squad, viz. competitive zeal, sparky attitude, excellent defence and strong running.

He’s never going to be a creative attacker. He gives everything every time he gets the ball, but ‘heads up’ rugby … awareness of who and what is around him … and indeed any notion that he might pass the ball on … are not weapons in his armoury. In terms of a Rugby World Cup winner, he’s not England’s long-term answer at full back.

MarlerLast week prop Joe Marler did well in my book against a 23-stone opponent, given that he was only just over three weeks into his recovery from a technically broken leg. I expect more from him this afternoon but he’s unlikely to be a one-man destroyer of the Welsh tight-head or front row at this stage. We all know that had Mako Vunipola been fit and available, which he isn’t, Joe’s butt would have been picking up splinters on the subs’ bench today.

CareI have to hold my hand up to bias here, but I’ve always regarded Quins captain Danny Care as a better 9 than Ben Youngs. Youngs is solid and dependable but – for sheer versatility and ability to raise the tempo above where the opposition would like it to be – I’d pick Danny every time. But what you see is what you get – his downside is the mercurial nature of his talent. His button is permanently switched to ‘fast-forward’ and his unpredictability sometimes tells against him. He cocks it up nearly as often as he intervenes with devastating verve and, if the need for trust to do the right thing and an ability to see the bigger overall picture in the mayhem of a tight match is what you want (as sometimes you do), then he’s a risk. Plus – sadly – his club form has been distinctly patchy. He hasn’t played a decent game for Quins in nearly three months but that’s partly because he’s been on England duty.

CliffordI’ve got my fingers crossed in a big way for Jack Clifford, the Quin picked by Eddie Jones today at 7 (open side flanker).

No doubt regarding his talent and potential – he’s a former England Under-20 captain like Maro Itoje – and he’s quick and big (Eddie Jones has been quoted as seeing him ultimately as a Number 8) but this afternoon he’s part of an England back row a gulf and a half behind its Welsh counterpart in terms of international experience. I’m very wary of sporting predictions – in another life I was a boxing fan and learned the hard way that my capacity to predict outcomes correctly was minimal despite all my supposed knowledge of the Fight Game – so although I hope for his sake that Clifford comes of age today, my private concern is that he’ll be overshadowed by his direct opponents in Cardiff. He’s had a series of niggly injuries this term and I’d be more relaxed if he had a few more Quins games under his belt.

About Derek Williams

A recently-retired actuary, the long-suffering Derek has been a Quins fan for the best part of three decades. More Posts