Yesterday it was not without trepidation that I journeyed to the Sussex Arms off Twickenham Green at 1.00pm in advance of Harlequins’ Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs at the Stoop.
The Chiefs are one of the unsung successes of rugby’s Premiership. They buy well, possess a healthy mix of hoary old vets and academy youngsters, and above all they work hard for 80 minutes. Nobody relishes playing them, home or away. Given our respective league positions (Exeter vying for the fourth play-off place and Quins nearly 10 points behind), logically it was hard to progress beyond the view that we would face an uphill battle to prevail.
In the event, Quins having opened by playing for ten minutes at 90 miles per hour and causing two Exeter sin-bins by our frenetic helter-skelter endeavour, from there to the final whistle I am afraid it was a familiar story of Quins’ huff-and-puff and basic errors, underpinned by a total lack of penetration in midfield. Quality passages of play were thin on the ground and (as usual) there was far too much endless ‘up and under’ ping-pong from both teams.
At one point I was moved to turn to the fellow sitting to my left and said “Did my eyes deceive me, or did Danny Care just pass the ball to the referee?”
To which came the deadpan reply “He might as well, we’re not gaining anything from him passing to his team mates!”
After the match my pal offered the pithy assessment that – in reality – Exeter had not needed to do much to secure their 32-21 victory: “It was little more than a training run for them, in all honesty”, a view that was repeated, effectively word for word, in a match report for one of the broadsheet newspapers this morning.
Two thoughts to finish:
Henry Slade, Exeter’s 21 year old utility back (deployed at fly half yesterday), looked every inch a classy international player in the making. He scored 27 points, including a neatly-taken solo try, and – for my money – should now be a wild pick for the England Rugby World Cup squad in the autumn.
Amidst a glut of candidates this term, Quins’ performance in this fourth defeat in a row in all competitions managed to set a new low in terms of combined ineptitude and lack of dynamism. Where do we go from here? I dread to think, to be honest. The odds are that things could get worse before they get better.