There’s not much to be said – or indeed remembered – about my visit to the Stoop to see the Harlequins host Bath in the LV= Cup yesterday. I’m not even sure why I went, to be honest: the weather forecasters were not wrong when they predicted it was likely to get bitterly cold after lunch and I could have stayed at home and watched the match live on Sky Sports. It was not long before I began to wish I had.
Given our ignominious exit from the Rugby Champions Cup last weekend, commented Terry (my next seat season ticket holder) in hangdog fashion as he sat down, did I realise that, unless we won this competition and/or completed an even more epic run of victories in the Premiership than last year’s to squeeze into the top four play-offs, Quins’ 2014-2015 season would effectively be over?
It is now.
The LV=Cup is the one for the second team and the kids and – in the good times – it can be a harbinger of great things to come. In our days of yore – three, maybe four, seasons ago and fading into the distance – we won it at a canter with a team whose average age must have been about 23 or 24.
That was then. Since those far-off wonders we have fallen off the pace of general Premiership development, whilst Bath’s deep-pocketed and driven owner Bruce Craig has bought himself a club infrastructure, coaching team and squad quite capable of restoring the club to its glory days. Their academy is no slouch, either.
After the dross and disappointments of the last five months I don’t think those around me were anticipating anything other than what we received yesterday. The off-loading game that Quins likes to play feeds off confidence as much as anything and, to our jaded eyes in the stands, the match-day squad seemed infected with a deflated air of ‘going through the motions’ even as it warmed up.
I cannot help it, I get a sense of dread whenever the opposition seem taller and wider than our lads – and yesterday Bath certainly gave that impression. From the very first scrum, they destroyed our callow pack in the tight … and the writing was on the wall. We were marmalised from pillar to post, conceding not only penalties like confetti, at scrum-time but – to cap it all – even a penalty try at one point.
I keep repeating this, but the old adage “Forwards decided who wins a game of rugby, the backs by how much” is seldom proved wrong.
It wasn’t yesterday. Against all odds, with the clock going into overtime, Quins were somehow still leading 21-20 but under severe pressure, rarely able to break out from our 22. Then suddenly the Welsh referee took a hand and awarded what (to the home crowd in the stands) was an inexplicable penalty to Bath in front of our posts – and that was that.
Defeat, exit from the Cup … goodbye to the season … a trudge to my car, home by a quarter past five to a mug of tea and a crumpet smeared with butter and marmite … an instant decision not to bother to watch my recording of the Sky Sports live coverage … and a stupefied hour spent watching Harry Hill’s You’ve Been Framed (for want of anything better to do) before awarding myself my first consolation stiff gin & tonic of the evening.