[Before I begin, a couple of brickbats in the direction of the sub-editors on the websites of The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.
The above photograph appears above the Telegraph’s report on the match, with the Quins player identified as ‘Nick Evans’ – our fly half – when in fact the player featured is, of course, Nick Easter, our heavy-duty Number 8.
Not that our friends at The Guardian fare much better. Their report is illustrated by a snap of Quins’ Matt Hopper diving over the line, captioned ‘Matt Hopper scores a try …’ when in fact he didn’t. The referee went upstairs to the video official who, after several minutes, disallowed it.]
A true supporter’s glass is always half-empty, but yesterday’s Heineken Cup group away game against Racing Metro – ending in a (32-8) four-try bonus point victory – may allow some of us in south-west London to believe that the men in the multi-coloured quarters may have finally turned a corner this season.
There’s a time-honoured myth in rugby that ‘French teams don’t travel’ – in other words, when they play away, you can never be quite sure whether or not their players will arrive in the right frame of mind.
Yesterday Racing Metro, the ‘home’ team, seemed to be playing to type.
It’s not as illogical a statement as it seems. For reasons unfathomable to this television viewer, they had moved the game from their base the western suburbs of Paris to the 38,000-seater Stade de Beaujoire in Nantes … so perhaps it felt like an away contest to them. They certainly played as if disinterested. The Sky commentators hinted darkly of a run of bad form (Racing Metro sit only 8th in the French Top 14 league) and unrest in the camp after their owner apparently off-loaded 17 players during the off-season and brought in 17 very expensive new ones to replace them.
Harlequins arrived in Nantes almost down and out in Heineken Cup terms. No team in history has qualified for the quarter-final knockout stage after losing its first two group matches, but if Quins managed to prevail in all their remaining games they could become the first. They had nothing to lose.
Ironically, playing well away from home is the one thing Quins can do. Toulouse and Stade Francais know this to their cost – as do Munster, who were stunned when we blew them away at in the Thomond Park semi-final on our way to 2011 Amlin Cup Final victory in 2011. In any one-off match, Quins can either be lacklustre or tear someone to shreds, which is why our cup record is as good as it is.
Yesterday the Danny Care-Nick Evans (9/10) partnership worked with clockwork smoothness and Evans pulled the string like a master puppeteer. Best of all, the pack (outweighed by over 30 kilograms) stood its ground, with George Robson – our workhorse lock – winning the man of the match award. Come to think of it, the state of our engine-room was symptomatic of the whole. With Matthews alongside Ronson at the start, replaced by Nick Kennedy in the second half – which signalled that both our injured second-rowers were back from long-term injury … and allowed the evergreen Nick Easter, hitherto obliged to play out of position, to revert to his real position at Number 8 for the first time this season.
Don’t get me wrong. I hold out little hope of Quins getting much further in the Heineken, but four consecutive Premership victories and this drubbing of Racing Metro seem to confirm that we’re back in this season’s race.
Elsewhere, James Chisholm – a strapping Number 8 who has already made his Premiership debut for Quins – continued his reign as England Under-18 captain with a try in the 23-3 victory over Australian Schools at Harrow School on 4th December.