Monday 28th December 2015, The Stoop, kick-off 1500 hours: Harlequins ‘A’ 34 London Irish ‘A’ 7.
New festive day, Bank Holiday Monday, new Quins rugby game. And after the on and off-pitch excesses of Big Game 8, also some time for reflection.
Fans are wonderful specimens and come in various guises and attitudes of mind – as the Quins unofficial website message board continuously attests. In reaction to Saturday’s extraordinary game, whilst most posters agreed that Quins’ Keystone Cops impression was hardly good for anyone’s blood pressure, they then split along the entire spectrum from ‘Absolutely ridiculous – heads must roll!’ … to ‘Conor might need to have a quiet word with some of the senior players to remind them that there are tactics available such as switching to the pack stuffing the ball up their jumper to calm things down for a while and/or playing percentages to close out a game’ … and finally to “Yes, it was total madness, but it was a highly entertaining game, a great day out, we’re still fourth in the league table and (after all) nobody died’.
Opinions on Kevsic, the Gloucester flanker, were similarly divided. Whilst most accepted he played a blinder, some were sniffy about how much he got away with, or possibly it was how much referee Wayne Barnes let him get away with.
Others acknowledged that playing on the edge of legality is part of the job of an open-side flanker (as they used to be called) to the point where in part players like All Blacks Michael Jones and Richie McCaw, Aussie George Smith, France’s Jean-Pierre Rives and England’s Peter Winterbottom earned their legendary status precisely because they ‘got away’ with quite so much. The truth is that Kvesic was a bloody nuisance to Quins all afternoon and – if he did get away with near murder at times because he was ‘playing Mr Barnes like a violin’ – why weren’t our back row players doing it just as well, or preferably better?
Om an ‘inclusivity’ note, one of the more heart-warming comments was posted by an outsider, an Exeter Chiefs fan. Heading his contribution ‘Thank you’, he said he just wanted to salute Quins for their all-action style of play and laying on one of the most thrilling and exciting games he’d seen in years.
Be all that as it may, smiles were certainly much in evidence among the crowd of 2,000 to 2,500 at the Stoop yesterday, together with a distinct shaking-of-the-head “Wow – did all that really happen?!” buzz.
As for the match, even among Quins fans who are not – like me – completely one-eyed, Quins were widely expected to prevail because of the quality of our side – including as it did first team squad members such as Joe Gray (captain), Charlie Walker, Harry Sloan, Tim Swiel, Adam Jones, George Merrick, Kieran Treadwell, Rob Buchanan, Matt Shields and Beau Robinson. In contrast, I have to confess that I did not recognise a single name in the London Irish match day 23.
As a competitive match this was more of a training run for the Quins than anything else.
Had Tim Swiel – the promising young English turned South African fly half/full back who joined us as temporary injury cover last spring and was later rewarded with a full-time contract for this season – not contrived to miss four wide-out conversions we would have been out of sight by half-time, rather than just 22-0 ahead.
Otherwise, however, he was a stand-out performer yesterday. He’s quick, inventive and plays instinctive ‘heads up’ rugby, though perhaps sometimes his susceptibility to the Quins disease (seeking to overdo the creativity) needs to be reined in.
Among the forwards, the lumbering, brooding 23 year-old George Merrick [6 feet 6, 19 and a half stone] – who I first saw six years ago playing for Whitgift School alongside backs Marland Yarde (now of Quins and England) and Elliott Daly (now of Wasps and heavily tipped for an England cap in 2016) in the final of the annual Daily Mail schools tournament at Twickenham – put himself about with great force, especially in carrying up the ball via Route One.
Of the academy players on display, ex-Brighton College and Worthing Raiders scrum half Calum Waters particularly caught my eye when he came on towards the end. Previously when I’ve seen him he was nippy but anonymous. On this outing he looked much more purposeful and classy.
Returning home after the game I was pleased to have had the opportunity to get out, stretch my legs and breath some December fresh air. I could be tempting Fate here but at the moment Quins seem to be in a good place as 2015 draws to a close.