After four matches of the new Premiership season, Harlequins now languish in 9th position with just 8 points – above only Sale Sharks, Newcastle Falcons and the hapless London Welsh, whom we happen play next weekend – and have scored just five tries, equal fewest in the league.
This is the worst start to a season that I can recall. Mind you, that may not be saying much given the capacity of my memory span these days is only about five years. But what is just as worrying is that we’re not playing like the Quins. We’re playing like a team that deserves to be 9th, indeed probably lower.
This highlights one of recurring issues for all those who support teams in team sports – to what extent do results matter?
Whenever Quins lose at home, the fans’ website chat-room crackles with contributions either chiding or defending those who have chosen to leave the ground early. It’s that old chestnut of ‘Surely true fans should stay to support their teams to the bitter end, through thick and thin?’ versus ‘Excuse me, I’ve paid a small fortune for my ticket(s) and if I choose to slope off early that’s my inalienable right, irrespective of whether it’s because the team are playing badly (and/or surrendering without a fight) or just because I need to get home promptly and wish to catch the early train’.
Three or four season ago, being a Quins supporter was a joy. The results were good (of course) but what was just as important was the way the team played – with an attractive, free and easy, cavalier attacking style that mostly swept all before it.
In addition it also meant that no score-line, however depressing, was necessarily an impediment. We could come from as far as 15 to 20 points down and still win … or at the very least sneak a losing bonus point … in a nail-biting finish that left the onlooker drained but buzzing with adrenalin.
In those days the other Premiership teams admired our off-loading pizzazz and/or were wary of it. That’s simply not the case anymore.
At one point yesterday Nick Mullins, commentator for BT Sport’s coverage of our abject 13-36 defeat against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, made stirring reference to the fact that almost 70% of our match day squad was ‘home grown’. Personally, I am beginning to fear that in the modern era this is part of our problem.
For good or ill, rugby seems to be going the way of soccer as more and more money is attracted to the game.
The days when soccer supporters travelled to matches on the bus seated beside the playing heroes they’d grown up with, and were fiercely geographically-insular in their outlook, are long gone.
Today soccer fans don’t care whether their players come from their local communities or instead from the Far East, Macedonia, West Africa, Russia, South America or the Maldives. All that matters is whether they’re sufficiently world class to get their team into the top four in the league and European qualification for the following season. Or indeed, just avoid relegation.
Yes, I’m proud of the fact that Harlequins have been producing many of its players in-house these past few seasons and have been near ‘best in class’ in terms of supplying talent to the full England team.
However, on the other hand, the other teams who haven’t matched us in this department – and have instead got out the chequebook in order to bolster their squads with mature, proven, class – are now speeding around the metaphorical race track whilst watching Quins receding into the distance in their rear-view mirrors.
On the ‘club or country?’ dilemma, it’s very tempting to feel that the fortunes of the club you follow are more important than those of your national team.
This applies especially when you’re forced to watch your team on a downward curve of form, attitude and commitment, leaving you reduced to admitting in public “I don’t mind losing – that is, provided that we go down with all guns blazing, playing like we used to …”
In the world of sport, results aren’t – or shouldn’t be – everything. Except, that is, when they aren’t going your way.
For those of my readers with masochistic tendencies, please feel free to read and weep at the headline of today’s match report by Chris Hewitt on the website of THE INDEPENDENT