Rugby is no exception to the general sporting rule that derby matches count for plenty and last night’s 16-23 victory over Wasps in the second round of the group stage of the Rugby Champions Cup (which has replaced the Heineken as the top European competition) was a welcome boost to what hitherto has been less than sensational start to 2014/2015 for Quins.
Mind you – on the subject of derbies – from a prejudiced Quins perspective of course, point one is that we’re actually the only authentic local team – Wasps (who called themselves ‘London Wasps’ until this season have eked out an existence of sorts in High Wycombe and are now on their way to Coventry), Saracens – previously out at Watford and now building a life for themselves at Allianz Park at Edgware – and London Irish, who opted to sell their birthright at Sunbury for a property development killing and disappear down to the Madejski Stadium at Reading, are all ‘pretend’ London clubs.
Point two is that all of the above are relatively soulless. Wasps, whose purple playing patch ended nearly a decade ago, have never attracted big numbers. This is not an accusation that could be levelled against Sarries, albeit their rise to the top has been ‘bought’ by an ownership with big pockets and a strong South African connection, whilst their fan-base consists more of success-chasers rather than rugby lovers per se. London Irish do at least possess a bedrock of Emerald Isle support but they’ve always been a mid-table team at best.
By choice I’ve never been to a Quins’ away match against Wasps at High Wycombe’s Adams Park, having heard horror stories of its numbing inaccessibility and lack of atmosphere. Even on television – and yes, I was watching last night’s game from a home sofa vantage point – it has always looked like the sort of place that one would be happy to crawl across broken glass to avoid.
Wasps got the chequebook out during the summer and, having worked hard on teamwork and systems, have posted some excellent early-season form. They’re certainly no longer a soft option up front and any back row featuring heavy-duty ball-carriers Ashley Johnson and Nathan Hughes is always going to take some stopping.
Sadly, last night we were denied the opportunity to see Wasps captain James Haskell go head-to-head with England captain Chris Robshaw in an openside battle by Haskell’s unfortunate viral infection that saw him hospitalised last week.
Quins also had an important drop-out – new club captain and England prop Joe Marler, side-lined by a quad injury.
Wasps v Quins are normally close affairs. I believe the last six have all been seven point (or less) games.
Overall Quins deserved the victory and won with something to spare. Had it not been for dropped passes, knock-ons and little errors in high-intensity situations that – if not perpetrated – might have resulted in tries, the margin could have been closer to 20 points. Once our non-nonsense pack had established better than parity, with Nick Evans controlling things at fly half, we managed to play mostly in the right areas and generally had too much attacking firepower and variety for the home team.
Of passing note was Danny Care’s relatively poor day at the office – he was caught in possession more than once at the base of the scrum and spilled the ball here and there, albeit his kicking from hand was good.
Elsewhere one of my long-time tips for the top – lock Charlie Matthews – deservedly won the Man of the Match award. See here for a link to The Independent’s rugby correspondent Chris Hewitt’s report on the game – THE INDEPENDENT