Last night, in a match affected by torrential rain that had been falling all day, Northampton Saints defeated the Harlequins 18-10 at Franklin’s Gardens to reach the final of the junior European (Amlin) Cup.
I wasn’t on hand to lend my support. It could be an age thing, but the days when I would travel away at the drop of a hat to follow the men in quartered shirts are long gone. I’m not a particular fan of Franklin’s Gardens anyway. It’s a soulless rugby venue, especially in the cold and/or wet.
Instead I stayed at home, put on a Quins shirt, ordered a takeaway Thai meal, sank a stiff iced gin & tonic laced with Angostura bitters and strapped myself in to watch the game ‘live’ on Sky Sports.
It was not an inspiring evening, long to be remembered. Quins were never in control or in front, despite Saints fielding a starting XV that left five or six of their top stars on the bench. Not even a one-eyed fan could quibble with the result. Saints came out of the blocks fast armed with a game plan, based squarely around forward power and solid defence, that did the business. The reputation of Franklin’s Gardens as a forbidding fortress for visitors remains intact.
Quins’ defeat was down to four factors:
Firstly, the weather, which undermined attempts by both sides to play rugby and rendered the ball as slippery as a bar of soap;
Secondly, Saints adapting to the conditions better than we did;
Thirdly, the under-par performance of our understudy to the injured Nick Evans, Ben Botica – he was badly off-form with his place-kicking and never imposed himself or any control upon the game;
Fourthly, the vagaries of the TMO video-referral system.
Early in the second half, with Saints already 13-3 ahead, their classy Samoan scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i fortuitously collected the ball after an ‘up-and-under’ at the second attempt and sprinted 50 yards unchallenged to score. There was more than a suspicion that, in his first, he’d flapped a ‘feathered’ knock-on with an outstretched hand, but the TMO official – after five minutes of looking at the incident from every angle – reported back “No solid evidence that he did knock-on” … and that was that, try given and a score of 18-3 and, despite all Quins efforts, game over. Had the TMO decided otherwise – as in my view would have been perfectly reasonable based upon the evidence – the final result might well have been closer (if not different) because Quins really took it to them in the final quarter of an hour.
Quins went into this game with two trophies still potentially to play for this season.
Now one of them has disappeared in smoke and the other – a spot in the Premiership play-offs – depends upon results going our way.
We’re currently 6 points behind Bath with just two games to go (the second of which is at home against Bath) and two non-bonus point wins would only bring us only 8. It’s going to be tight.
Of all ironies, Bath’s other game (5th May), is at home to Northampton Saints. If they win that, it looks like it’s ‘season over’ for Quins.