Friday 22nd January, kick-off 7.45pm: European Challenge Cup pool stage: Result – Montpellier 42 Harlequins 9.
This report won’t take long because, when typing words is akin to chipping granite with a blunt knife and fork, brevity becomes a virtue.
For the last 36 hours, every waking hour, I’d been building up to this one. Yesterday I travelled down to the coast with my wife – even endured an hour-long supermarket food shop on the way – in order to spend the weekend with my aged parents. My father, despite his deafness, loves all televised sport and I spent the afternoon pumping him up about the game which was being broadcast live on BT Sport.
At 6.00pm he was served his ‘medicinal’ whisky–and-water and then the four of us necked a bottle of prosecco before being served the Irish stew we’d been promised. Life was good. I was even wearing my lucky accessories – the grey-with-green-stripes boxer shorts, the Harlequins fleece and my Quins wristband. I could barely contain myself.
And then the match started. Quins were only fleetingly at the races, scoring first through a Botica penalty. After that it was a case of ‘men against boys’, with the home team – coached by former South African head coach Jake White and packed with former Springboks presumably earning pension pots before riding into the sunset – proving at every turn bigger, heavier, keener and more dynamic than the second-string Quins team we had fielded.
As sporting entertainment, it was as dire as watching paint dry.
The forwards on both sides saw to that. At one point former Quin winger Ugo Monye – commentating for BT Sport – noted that, of the first eight scrums that had taken place, only one resulted in the ball actually coming out to herald a passage of open play. All the others ended in multi-collapses and resets; or indecisively; and/or with a penalty or free-kick award. Sad to say, that dreadful ratio did not seem to improve at any point during the course of the match.
Montpellier scored five tries in all for a bonus-point win and a quarter-final place via a second-place pool finish (we’d already qualified in pole position last weekend by defeating Cardiff Blues).
Fair play to them.
We Brits love to mock French rugby teams for their supposed reputation of being ‘poor on the road’ (“Which Frog team will turn up today?”) – but on last night’s evidence Quins were similarly guilty.
Someone speculated that it was a case of deliberately choosing to rest our stars with one eye on bigger challenges to come, and/or that (with a quarter-final tie already in the bag and Conor O’Shea having announced his end-of-season departure this week) we were simply distracted and unfocused. Either way, it was an unedifying display to place before the viewing public.
Still, it could have been worse. A couple of my pals had made the trip out there to watch the game in the flesh – what a waste of money that was … unless perhaps they found some solace in the local cuisine and the craic of mounting the expedition. Back in the UK I had disappeared to the kitchen to prepare cups of Horlicks long before the final whistle.