There is a small but vital margin between being a fan of a sport and being a fan of a particular team. I can watch rugby union at any level of the game from internationals downwards, including seven-a-sides, but – in the style of the well-worn example concerning a full-cooked breakfast (‘the chicken is involved, the pig committed’) – it’s on an ‘involved’ basis only.
However, when it comes to anything to do with the Harlequins, I’m in pig (committed) mode – and to all intents and purposes one-eyed. It doesn’t matter who the opposition is, or what they’re doing … I can only relate to whether my team is playing well or badly, getting the rub of the green from the referee, and winning or losing. Nothing else matters.
Last weekend, in a Premiership game I missed in the flesh, Quins outplayed Leicester Tigers comprehensively. For Quins fans the world over, having endured a deeply disappointing season so far, it confirmed all the reasons that life was worth living.
What’s more, if we could have just followed it up at the Stoop with a victory last night over Wasps in the European Rugby Champions Cup, we’d have been odds-on to qualify in first place in our group and everything could have been forgiven.
We’d have been on the move in both the Premiership and the Cup at just the right moment.
Suffice it to say, the inevitably happened. To the delight of their supporters and no doubt themselves, Wasps came to the Stoop and soon silenced the Stoop by playing to their strengths and doing it well. They were 0-17 up at half-time and, even after the break (and what we all presumed would have been the mother and father of hair-dryer treatments from the Quins coaches) they took the honours 3-6 to complete a 20 point walloping of the home team.
Not even those pessimists among (starting with me) could have foreseen this calamity, still less the scale of it.
In every media interview he gives, Conor O’Shea says that what matters is Quins getting its game on the pitch – if we do that, he’s happy and the result will take care of itself. Last night was a perfect example of Quins delivering something quite different. Believing – or having been told – that if we just played our all-action game, at some point Wasps would crack and the floodgates open, the players acted like headless chickens and tried far too hard to make things happen. They attempted to play fast and loose from everywhere. They over-thought things, they under-thought things, they flung the ball about in ludicrous situations when calmness, control and patience would have served them better.
And they made mistakes. They knocked on, they threw passes to anywhere but a team-mate, they flapped and hustled and bustled with increasing desperation – and time and again they flung themselves without concern for personal safety against the Wasps defensive castle walls. And got nowhere. The Wasps defence was tight and immovable. If I’m being honest, it won them the game. That … and two tries gifted to them by Quins – an interception by Christian Wade that relieved a prolonged siege by Quins of the Wasps 22 and permitted him an 80 yard gallop to the line … and an outrageous dummy by scrum half Joe Simpson that in a trice fooled not just the Quins tight-head prop in front of him but half the team as well to let him stroll over.
Worse, the Quins strategy and tactics were cack-handed – or perhaps there weren’t any. There certainly didn’t seem to be anyone taking decisions that made sense. In the numbing first half (which to remind you ended 0-17 to Wasps) Quins were given five penalties in kickable positions (a possible 15 points) and declined the lot. Instead they opted in favour of either letting Danny Care take a quick one and scamper off, or calling for a scrum, or a kick to the corner, in any effort to go straight for a try. None of these got anywhere.
Congratulations to Wasps – they came, they saw, they conquered. I should estimate that they had no more that 35% of the possession but they took their chances with precision and stuck to their game plan. Meanwhile those Quins players with most to gain – e.g. Danny Care as prospective England scrum half and Nick Easter as a veteran outsider to potentially make the England Six Nations squad – were outshone by their Wasps counterparts Joe Simpson and Nathan Hughes. Even Wasps captain and Number 7 James Haskell got one over Chris Robshaw by being hailed as man of the match.
In summary, this was yet another of a group of Quins performances that has been far too big this term: under-powered, lacking in dynamism and basically inept. If I’d known how last night’s game was to turn out in advance, I’d rather have stayed at home, watched the umpteenth repeat of ITV’s You’ve Been Framed and gone to bed at 8.00pm …