This was not how it was supposed to be. Harlequins began last season with a poor run of results and yesterday at Twickenham Stadium opened their 2014/2015 account with a truly laboured 20-15 victory over an abject London Irish. In stark contrast, the London Double Header game immediately preceding – in which Saracens prevailed 34-28 over Wasps thanks to a last-minute David Strettle try – had been a belter.
As a showcase advertisement for Premiership rugby, the afternoon demonstrated the frustrating nature of the beast. The first match proved that, at its best, rugby union can provide thrills, spills and rarely-matched sporting excitement. The second – despite the surfeit of good intentions and marketing hyperbole from the teams and broadcasters (in this case BT Sport) beforehand – demonstrated that, all too often, the sport can become a dog’s breakfast of mediocrity and unforced errors.
I just thanked my lucky stars that I was stuck in front of the television by the water in West Sussex and not sitting in a £55 seat at HQ. Had this game been a West End theatre production, I’d have been in the queue to demand my money back.
It had begun satisfactorily, despite all the flaws – by half-time Quins had stuttered to a 20-6 lead and one fondly imagined that they’d sort a few things out in the dressing room and switch on the after-burners for a four-try bonus point win after the break.
How wrong can one man be?
The second 40 minutes saw three Irish penalties and precious little else.
Try as one might, it was hard to find a positive in this Quins’ performance. I suppose a determined one-eyed fan could possibly nominate the defence which, even after it had been reduced to 13 men by the yellow cards dished out to England props Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler (Quins’ new captain), continued to frustrate a powder-puff Irish attack that took all of 53 minutes to make its first visit to the opposition 22.
The incomparable Kiwi fly half Nick Evans looked every one of his 34 years and tamely hooked wide 50% of his kicks at goal. A bad day at the office for him.
Danny Care at 9 failed to assert control, as one would have expected. The pack huffed and puffed but failed to impress – by the third quarter they were being shunted backwards regularly at scrum time.
Centres Jordan Turner-Hall and Matt Hopper lacked penetration and creativity.
Even Marland Yarde, our new signing from Irish, was relatively anonymous, mainly because nobody gave him the ball in anything like space.
On the television, we were told that Conor O’Shea had described his anticipatory dread of first matches of a new season (“Anything can happen … everyone just wants to get them over with”). Long before the end, this viewer did too. If this is how Quins are going to play this year, I’d prefer to live in the past.
Clutching at straws, I suppose some might argue that things can only get better. Sadly, on this showing, not fast enough. We host Sarries at the Stoop on Friday evening and, if we play anything like we did yesterday, I foresee at 15-point loss.