Sometimes the lot of a true club supporter includes an instinctive urge to attend away games, where a key plus is the necessarily heightened sense of fan camaraderie and bonding to be gained amidst the trials and tribulations of being ‘on the road’.
Last Friday, in rugby terms, I had the misfortune – for the second year running – to visit Franklins’ Gardens for Harlequins’ away Premiership clash with Northampton Saints. With the horrendous festive weather continuing unabated, I first drove in torrential conditions to Wollaston in Northamptonshire, in order to team up with relatives for the half-hour journey to the ground.
As all softy Southerners know, a passport and several layers of warm clothing and outdoor gear are de rigeur when going anywhere north of Watford. The very word Northamptonshire conjures in me images of bitterly cold farm houses, mud and wet. In that sense, I was ready for the ordeal of sitting huddled in the south-west corner of Franklins’ Gardens, with the wind howling and the rain sheeting.
This was a distinctively average game, well below its billing as a near season-defining clash between two Top Four contenders who like to play rugby. The Saints exhibited no weaknesses, had parity or superiority in every facet of the action and their 23-9 margin of victory was an accurate reflection of what I saw from the stands.
Quins did turn up but, despite reaching half-time at 6-6, never looked like gaining the ascendancy.
On this evidence, Quins’ quest for honours this season is already over – I now predict a Premiership finishing position of 6th.
The brutal truth is that, currently, we always finish second best whenever we come up against one of the current ‘big boys’ (Leicester Tigers, Saracens and Northampton Saints).
Indicative of the point on Friday was the fact that Quins’ rising winger Charlie Walker, currently tipped by some for early promotion to the England main squad, was badly shown up when Welsh and British Lions giant George North – also aged 21, despite already having played 35 internationals – first ‘bumped’ him off and then accelerated with ease past three more defenders to score the first of Northampton’s tries at about the 44 minute mark.