Sandy Park, Saturday 28th November – Aviva Premiership Round 5 – Exeter Chiefs 26 [4 league points for a win] Harlequins 25 [2 bonus points, one for ending within 7 points, one for scoring four tries].
We like coming from slightly left field on the Rust but I would like it to be known that I still retain enough of my old-fashioned public school manners to have discussed my intended approach with my sports editor before beginning to draft this post.
You see, the thing is, I neither watched the game, nor listened to it on the nearest BBC regional radio station [the traditional way that, via the internet, Quins fans keep in touch when neither Sky Spots nor BT Sport are covering one of our outings].
As it happens – acting under orders from the Mem Saab – I spent my afternoon clearing out my ‘working area’ of the drawing room, which admittedly had become something of an eyesore, and then shopping.
When I say ‘shopping’, I refer to my domestic deal regards retail therapy, viz. that my wife actually hits the high street and, when she has identified all she wishes to buy, she calls me – we agree a spot in the centre of Kingston at which to rendezvous – and then I set off to accompany her back to the relevant shops to pay for her chosen items. This successful working arrangement, established early on in our marriage, satisfies us both. She gets to shop at her leisure without me constantly umming and aaahring at the speed and duration of her progress and – for my part – me picking up the tab is fair exchange for the plus of not being dragged round the shops.
The upshot of the above is if any of my readers wish to update themselves about the course of yesterday’s match, I would direct them to one of the many reports in national newspapers, on rugby websites, or with indeed the pages of the rugby fans’ bible The Rugby Paper which is published on Sunday mornings.
Accordingly, I shall confine myself here to some reflections upon the outcome of the game and the state of Harlequins’ season so far.
Going down to an away game at Exeter is a trip that no Premiership fan relishes, but that is not to be negative in the slightest about the Chiefs – what the club and their head coach Rob Baxter have achieved since gaining promotion in 2009 is nothing short of outstanding. Their playing reputation is for a thriving academy, few ‘big names’ but instead carefully-chosen hard-nosed, hard-working, mercenaries who leaven their home grown talent. In consequence no game against Exeter is every easy, especially when they’re playing at home.
No – it’s just a hell of a long way to go, there is plenty of weather and wind down there, and the locals are knowledgeable and fervently one-eyed about their rugby. By that I do not mean as an away fan you are not welcomed (because you are) but as a tiny minority in the stadium it can get a little lonely.
A few years ago, in order to support Quins A team in the final of the A League [what is regarded as a competition for squad, academy and returning-from-injury players], I myself drove to Sandy Park alone – which on the day involved an eight-hour round trip in torrential monsoon-like freezing rain – only to watch the boys get thrashed by a 20-point margin. It was a trip that lives in my memory more as a badge of honour than for anything enjoyable or rewarding.
As for the game, from what I can gather, Quins opened up from the off and kept playing to the final whistle. The fact they lost was simply down to the weather (and wind, inevitably); the boot of Exeter fly half Gareth Steenson who amassed 21 points in all; an alleged poor refereeing decision when an Exeter try directly resulted from an unspotted blatant offside at a breakdown; and two missed placed kicks late on by substitute kicker Tim Swiel, either of which might have snatched us a well-earned victory.
Quins had a few selection issues in the back row. With Jack Clifford kayoed last time out, we had hooker Dave Ward starting out of position at 7 and Chris Robshaw (who apparently did a decent shift this time out) at 6.
Nevertheless – all said and done – the early omens for the season are rosy, in stark contrast to the position last season. Even our two Premiership losses this term (away against Leicester and Exeter) were hard-fought and squeaky-tight on the scoreboard – I’m not just saying it, but arguably (with a tiny more help from Lady Luck) we might easily have won both and this when these days not many Premiership teams win on the road.
The life-mood of all true sports fans is determined by the ongoing fortunes of their teams. It should come as no surprise that right now I’m feeling pretty good about the world in general. This time exactly twelve months ago I was checking flight schedules to Switzerland on the internet, just in case a booking at Dignitas became preferable to what seemed the only alternative of surrendering my season ticket and taking up gardening.