Yesterday afternoon the Harlequins beat Gloucester 29-26 at the Stoop in the Premiership and now lie in 8th place (on 43 points) behind Sale Sharks in 7th (on 47), who play London Irish away this afternoon, and Wasps in 6th (48 points). Therefore there is still a mathematical chance of Quins squeezing into the top European (Rugby Champions) Cup competition next season, even if it is via finishing 7th and then playing off – against the French Top 14 equivalent finisher for the final place on offer.
Note my use of the word ‘mathematical’.
The match was an official sell-out, but beside me in the LV= Stand were five empty seats (presumably five season ticket holders who hadn’t bothered to turn up).
There had been a torrential rain shower mid-morning but the Stoop was bathed in sunshine for most of the afternoon: in the old days (three seasons ago) one might have called it perfect Quins – all-out attacking – weather, but the sadly this was a tense, gritty, niggly, error-strewn affair: to borrow a phrase from the Iron Duke, ‘a damned close run thing’.
At this stage, with young tyro prop Kyle Sinkler out for the count with a serious knee injury, our front five is down upon its uppers and the end of the season cannot come soon enough for Quins.
Yesterday we took another heavy beating in the scrums – being shunted backwards at high speed on numerous occasions and at one point even our England prop Joe Marler was on the receiving end of a yellow card for ‘turning in’, which is most unlike our captain. The truth is, we lived on scraps all afternoon and, but for the metronome-like efficiency of Nick Evans’ boot, could easily have come badly second-best.
As usual this term, man-for-man the visitors looked larger than our boys. They had come to play too, and for large segments of the game we were under pressure and on the back foot.
Quins could easily have lost this match. The atmosphere in the ground was generally flat – like our season – until, a tad uncharitably, the referee yellow-carded Jack Clifford for a late tackle in the second half, whereupon the home fans began booing the official loudly and (slightly against character, given Quins’ gentile reputation) soon afterwards gave Gloucester’s Greig Laidlaw a serious case of the bird as he took a penalty, this in naked defiance of the standard ‘Please Respect The Kicker’ plea being displayed on the big screen at the end of the ground. Both sets of fans were chanting loudly from that point to the conclusion.
This game was not without its excitements but it was not the greatest advert for Premiership rugby. I spent the bulk of the action chit-chatting on a wide range of subjects with my neighbour, one of them unsurprisingly being the depressingly-poor season Quins had endured on the pitch. We confessed to each other that we had not yet renewed our season tickets. Driving home afterwards, I seemed to gain more satisfaction from the sports report on the radio (football results, Grand National, the Boat Races) than I had from my four-hour trip down the A316 to the rugby.