Reflections only from me today, Quins having beaten Bath 19-16 yesterday in what was effectively a knockout match to secure the final place in the Premiership play-offs.
Firstly, commiserations to Bath – hampered by late-season injuries to key players – who had occupied fourth spot for several months and played more than well enough to prevail, missing out on the play-offs only via George Ford being off-target with a 45 yard drop goal in overtime.
On this evidence England have a welcome dilemma in the fly half position. The incumbent starter Owen Farrell is a totally-professional rock-solid kicker, excellent tackler and sometimes underrated playmaker. Ford, however, is a gem. His diminutive size makes him a less secure defender and his kicking stats are slightly inferior but, at 21, in his first season as a starting Premiership 10, his game-awareness and natural all-round rugby ability have stood out. As a romantic, for me Ford – more than Farrell – is the man for England’s future. No doubt we shall discover more when both tour New Zealand next month.
Yesterday’s epic dog-fight at the Stoop wasn’t pretty, but it was a full-blooded cup tie. With so much at stake, both sides were nervous and edgy. Thinking about it, Quins probably emerged on top because they abandoned their normal all-out attacking game in favour of a pragmatic intensity around the park. It was no surprise that by the end players on both sides looked out on their feet, having given everything in the cause.
Perhaps in the end Quins’ wealth of experience was also a factor. There was a time when, on any given day, they could beat … but also lose … to anyone. They still can. But in one-off games at the highest level, both in the Premiership and Europe, they’ve been to the well time and time again and developed into a never-say-die team. Three or four years ago they were a callow, youthful, side – now those same players are battle-hardened vets.
It’s rare when discussing Quins to single out their defence for special mention, but they’ve worked hard on it in the last two seasons. Despite Ford’s scintillating solo try – inexplicably assisted by the waters of the Quins’ Red Sea parting to ease his path – it was a feature yesterday.
Two Quins tackles stood out for me in the heat of the second-half battle.
Former All Black fly half Nick Evans – who’ll be 34 in August – has been the Premiership’s best overseas import of the past six years. Now in the twilight of his playing years, he’s comparatively slight but shirks nothing. As the climax to the game approached, he faced a giant Bath forward powering towards him and went straight in, somehow stopping him in his tracks. After lengthy treatment he was then taken off – protesting at begin substituted – despite cradling an injured shoulder.
A short while later, Bath were advancing, in a series of phases, into the Quins’ half. The ball came out left, towards where I was sitting in the stand, with them having a ‘four on two’ overlap.
Suddenly an Exocet of a Quins player flew across the pitch and crunch-tackled the Bath player in possession around his ankles to save the day. A moment later I looked to see who this hero had been. It was the highly-rated rookie Quins’ tight-head prop Kyle Sinkler, who has been mentioned as a possible bolter England tourist for New Zealand this summer. Not only had this 21 year-old done his heavy shift in the front row struggle, here he was sprinting across to defend like a wing-threequarter.
That was yesterday, of course. Next Saturday, away at Allianz Park against runaway Premiership favourites Saracens, will be an entirely different matter.