In prospect, Saturday’s away match against Bath – against a backdrop in which these two and Leicester Tigers are currently contesting what, next spring, will become the fourth and last play-off spot – was a mouth-watering clash. Both teams like to play rugby and Bath had strung together a terrific early-season run of form, whilst Quins had recently climbed out of a trough to record wins in their last four Premiership games.
Clearly, composing a ‘representative’ report upon a match you have not personally witnessed is less than easy and probably foolhardy. However, since I didn’t travel on Saturday and BT Sport wasn’t televising this one, I had to rely upon the commentary provided by BBC Bristol. This – like all local radio stations – offered a novel, not to say quaint, experience featuring a parochial and biased slant that in the event I rather enjoyed, once I’d got used to it.
The Harlequins lost (14-3) for the following reasons – the wet and windy conditions inevitably hampered running rugby; Bath had the stronger pack; at 10, the rapidly-developing George Ford outshone Quins’ Nick Evans with his kicking game; our winger Charlie Walker got sin-binned, a touch unluckily, for a marginally-late tackle adjudged to be of the ‘tip’ variety; and a curious performance from referee Martin Fox, who seems to miss some blatant infringements whilst penalising other things that seemed wholly innocuous – and here I’m not accusing him of being a ‘homer’ [favouring the home team] or anything, both sides suffered equally in this respect.
In summary, on this day Quins got spanked by the better team, for whom the 22 year-old, hitherto out of form, England centre Jamie Joseph provided the one real creative spark of the day with a scintillating solo try. Perhaps – since coach Stuart Lancaster was watching – this little gem will bring him back into the England Six Nations reckoning, after his absence from the autumn internationals squad.
Sport is a funny old game, isn’t it?
Since the beginning of November, Quins had seemingly got their season back on track by winning a succession of games without necessarily playing that well. Last week’s edition of Rugby Tonight, BT Sport’s 90-minute weekly magazine programme – which had chosen Quins as their featured team of the week – implied as much. Guest star player Nick Easter assured viewers that Quins would now take the remainder of the season by the scruff of the neck.
Yet, after Saturday’s loss to ‘rivals for the fourth spot’ Bath, for fans like me the mood has reverted to apprehensive.
Further slip-ups in the next two games – Exeter (at Twickenham Stadium) and Northampton Saints (on the road) – could see Quins sliding into mid-table mediocrity.