[As ever, for a detailed report on last night’s Premiership clash between Harlequins and Leicester Tigers – televised ‘live’ on BT Sport – National Rust readers should turn to their favourite newspaper rather than rely upon my heavily-personal angle upon proceedings.]
I am not a fan of Friday night rugby games, even at the Stoop. Attendances are usually down – no doubt some fans, after a hard week at work, prefer to spend their Friday nights at home (or else cannot get ‘passes’ to go) – and the atmosphere is eerily strange, to the point where, in prospect before setting off, even I feel half-hearted.
Last night’s sold-out affair was different, however. Maybe the fact it was a Good Friday played its part.
Then again, perhaps it was the fact the game was crucial to both clubs. Quins had begun April needing to win all four remaining Premiership fixtures to have any chance of reaching the play-offs and Tigers were after a home semi-final, which they can only achieve by overhauling Northampton Saints in the table.
Quins are now ‘2 from 2’ in their quest after this pulsating 24-20 victory, their fifth in the last seven against the Tigers.
Once again referee Tim Wigglesworth, fresh from officiating at last Sunday’s violent car-crash of a West Country derby between Gloucester and Bath, played an unhappy part in proceedings.
He disallowed two Quins tries that could easily have been awarded on what I saw on the video screen and yet awarded one to Leicester, only four minutes into the match, after an attacking sequence containing what appeared to be two blatant forward passes.
To be fair, Tigers were equally aggrieved at Mr Wigglesworth’s performance, not least when he awarded Quins a first-half penalty try as, with Quins pressing hard, the scrums collapsed five metres out from Tigers’ line.
He did this under the rule that any infringement perpetrated in circumstances where – had it not occurred – a try would have probably been scored, warrants this severity. The only issue with the decision was that, normally when it comes to scrums, a ‘repeated offences’ factor applies … and this was the very first scrum in this particular sequence.
We’re not talking soccer-size crowds here, but sometimes 15,000-plus rugby spectators crammed into the Stoop can generate a great atmosphere – and last night, given the spoils at stake, both sets of fans needed no urging to get things going.
I’d go further. Even in our Premiership-winning season and some of the Heineken Cup epics of yesteryear, I have never heard the Quins crowd baying at the volume level that they did as, 16-20 down with less than ten minutes to go, our boys began driving irresistibly towards domination and encampment in Tiger’s half. First, sparky England full back Mike Brown plunged over for the unconverted try that took us to 21-20 and, three minutes from time, Ben Botica added a long-range penalty.
Suitable delirium at the final whistle.
Afterwards, back home by 11.40pm after celebrating in the pub, I watched my entire 3 hour 5 minute recording of BT Sport’s coverage of the game.
In his post-match interview, asked about Quins’ willingness to persist with their all-action style, Conor O’Shea – admitting the result could easily have gone either way – said this is how he and the players had decided to play, come what may. He also paid tribute to the Quins support – he’d never heard the Stoop ‘rocking’ like that.