It’s now nearly the end of November and the Harlequins’ season progresses as before, uneasily and without much of the trademark dazzling, off-loading, game upon which their reputation has been built. There is no sign of any form to speak of. They play in patches – good then average, then poor, then good again. The classic momentum of two years ago is missing and so is the crowd energy, off which teams so often feed.
Last Saturday, in another strange performance, they posted a 27-19 Premiership win over Gloucester Rugby at the Stoop to move up to fourth spot in the league table.
This term Gloucester have promised much – their squad looked mightily impressive on paper – but delivered less. The word around the league grounds is that their pack is under-powered.
However, they came to the Stoop determined to prove their pack is not lightweight and also to play. Which is a good strategy against Quins when they’re at home. If you come to ‘shut up shop’ and stop Quins playing, there chance are that they’ll put you to the sword. You have to take them on if your aim is to nick a win.
The first half was even-stevens until Gloucester scrum half Jimmy Cowan, the ex-All Black, found Danny Care a little too hot to handle, body-checked him as he ran through, and departed to the naughty step for ten minutes. Seven points is the average conceded in the Premiership by a team that receives a yellow card – here Quins put on 14 in the absence of Cowan, to stand 20-5 at half-time.
Before long – and two more Gloucester sin bins, which left their coach Nigel Davies incandescent at his team’s indiscipline – Quins were out of sight, but then the visitors kept playing and scored two more tries of their own towards the end, to finish just eight points adrift.
How did this happen? Well, Quins contributed by switching off, to be brutal.
Plus we missed the (four try) bonus point when the TMO disallowed a Tom Williams try for an earlier forward pass in the move. Most Quins fans, including me, felt that the pass was not forward at all – we were far more concerned by Williams’ touch-down, which he left so late that he may well have slid over the dead ball line before his grounding.
Elsewhere, on Monday night, the Harlequins ‘A’ team surrendered last year’s league title in a lively 39-30 away ‘group stage’ defeat against Northampton Saints.
The good news is that two veteran but new Quins ( long-term injured) players – Paul Doran-Jones and Nick Kennedy – made their returns.
Sam Smith kept up pressure on the first team wing threequarters with a two–try haul and one of my Academy tips for the top – Joe Marchant at centre, a big but silky runner – also went over.
You cannot win everything every season, but I had expected a better defence of our ‘A’ League crown. However, now the group stages of the competition are over and Quins are out – leaving Saints to contest the final – perhaps we can concentrate on the Premiership itself.
The target is second place in the league, before the play-offs begin.
The rules are that the top two sides at the end of the regular season get home advantage in the play-offs. The teams finishing third and fourth therefore have to travel. In one-off games, such as semi-finals, home advantage does count in rugby.
The best I can offer in drawing to a close is that, if Quins can hold onto fourth position to the end of 2013, a ‘top four’ finish in April/May must be possible. Our all-action style suits the drier, harder, grounds of spring.