The esteemed National Rust has never been a media organ shy of breaking new ground and today is no exception. In the world of Fleet Street, stories – apocryphal and otherwise – of journalists filing stories of wars, soccer matches and similar events of world importance whilst nowhere near the scene of the action are legion. Today, however, what I present is the first openly-admitted example of a reporter reviewing a Harlequins rugby match of which he witnessed only the first half.
Let me explain.
Last night, the men in quartered shirts played their away Amlin Cup quarter-final against Parisian team Stade Francais and won 6-29. The Amlin Cup is the secondary European cup competition, entered by those elite clubs in the major European countries that did not qualify for the Heineken. The Amlin is complicated by the fact that two places at the quarter-final stage are reserved for the ‘best group stage losers’ in the Heineken Cup, who drop down to the Amlin for the purpose – hence Quins’ involvement.
There was never any question of me travelling to Paris for this game, but – having arrived at the coast to stay the weekend with my father – by means of the SkyGo facility offered by Sky Television, I was intending to watch ‘live’ coverage on Sky Sports 2 played through the television screen via a high-definition equivalent of a scart lead going from my laptop into the back of the television.
If I could remember my SkyGo password and manage the technological steps required, that is – which in my case is never a certainty.
The only known-in-advance fly in the ointment was that the match kicked off at 8.00pm UK time, whilst the new series of Have I Got News For You, featuring Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, my father’s favourite light entertainment programme, was scheduled to begin at 9.00pm on BBC1.
You can probably guess where this is going.
A deal was struck whereby we would watch the first half of the Quins game … and then switch to Have I Got News For You.
Dear reader, that is exactly what happened.
As a result, my game report today is limited to what occurred during the first forty-minutes, which ended 6-9 to Quins’ advantage, thanks to a 40 yard penalty from Nick Evans roughly two minutes into overtime.
Quins and Stade have history. Twice, against the seeming odds, Quins have fashioned last-minute victories against them, the first – famously – when, in overtime at the end of a wonderful game at the Stoop, Quins somehow managed (after 29 phases of play) to engineer Nick Evans into a position to try a drop goal, which duly went over.
I can say, without fear of contradiction, that this was and is the greatest moment of my life so far.
The second was a couple of years later when, again behind with the final seconds of the game ticking away, our Argentinian winger Gonzo Camacho scored a try in the right-hand corner at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff … and Evans (again) slotted the conversion to win Harlequins the Amlin Cup Final.
Last night’s first half was a bitty affair, with the dewy conditions making handling – and in many instances footing – something of a lottery. Stade dominated up front, but Quins had not gone to Paris to lie down and tried to play running rugby from everywhere on the park, not always successfully.
To be honest with you, 6-6 would have been a fairer half-time score on the run of play, but Evans’ third penalty was a positive omen for Quins just before the break. The only other incident of note was the allegation by the Stade hooker and captain that Joe Marler, Quins’ England prop, had gouged his eye. The referee referred the allegation ‘upstairs’ but the video official could see nothing on the tapes and so the incident was forgotten. Or maybe not, there is a chance that the fourth official could ‘cite’ Marler for investigation within 72 hours – we shall have to wait and see.
In the second half, as I understand it from, the newspaper reports, Evan kicked more penalties and a conversion of a Mike Brown try to take his contribution to 17 points out of Quins’ 29. It would have been great to have watched it, but, as indicated above, instead by then I was watching Jennifer Saunders hosting HIGNFY.