It barely becomes anyone, still less me, to strike a bum note after watching the Harlequins execute yet another of their now routine “coming back from being all but dead and buried on the scoreboard only to snatch victory at the death with another of their harum-scarum all-out attacking blitz” turn-arounds.
Nevertheless, after my spell as a television onlooker watching ITV’s “live” coverage of the Quins v Gloucester Premiership game at RFU Twickenham Stadium yesterday, attended by some 48,000 spectators – in which Quins trudged off at half-time 7-24 down, only then to post three tries (two of them from England centre and on the day “Man of The Match” Joe Marchant) in yet another Danny Care-inspired second half Lazarus impression – that is what I attempt this morning.
It’s easy to buy into the pre-publicity and hype.
The stereotypical lah-dee-dah, City boy, public school-educated hooray Henries in the glamorous quartered-coloured shirts who always played free-running rugby with seeming studied insouciance – and (on any given day) could either win big or alternatively lose big – on the one hand, were always entertaining – even for the uncommitted – and simultaneously the team that their rivals loved to beat most, on the other.
For most of their 156-year history Quins, who – given their sense of entitlement and “home” proximity to the RFU (for many years they were the resident club at Twickenham Stadium) arguably often supplied more than their fair share of players to the England national squad – have been “tagged” as a Cup team: without apparent rhyme or reason, quite capable of winning (or indeed losing) to anyone in knock-out tournament games and yet – when it came to league competitions and the grind of a nine-month season – rarely more than a mid-table also-ran.
It’s easy to be glib when writing in generalisations but the occasional “fairy tale” such as Quins’ Premiership triumphs of 2011/2012 and 2020/2021 might easily be dismissed as the aberrations that prove the rule.
Let’s be clear: nobody – still less me – should venture to demur from heralding what was one of the all-time great sporting turn-arounds, i.e. Quins’ amazing last-gasp gate-crashing of the 2020/2021 Premiership Top Four play-offs and then eventual (and yes, typical comeback) victory over Exeter Chiefs in the Final, all achieved without replacing their head coach Paul Gustard, unceremoniously sacked in January 2021 after apparently “losing the dressing room” with the team languishing in seventh position in the league having just drawn with London Irish.
And thus here we are in late May 2022 with Premiership “Top Four” positions all but decided and Harlequins – now the equivalent of basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters, their home ground The Stoop regularly sold out, sporting new reputations as both everyone’s second favourite team and “the broadcaster’s delight” because of their sheer entertainment value – are now at last (and at least) in the mix to possibly retain their Premiership title and probably “have never had it so good” (as sometime Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once told the nation was the case with its economic position).
But some are not quite buying into the marketing myth.
Reporting upon his recent interview with Quins’ Marcus Smith in The Daily Telegraph, 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Will Greenwood wondered whether a weakness in the mercurial fly half’s game was that he had yet to develop the ability to mix “light and shade”, e.g. to perhaps occasionally slow the game down (as and when necessary), instead keeping his metaphorical “foot to the pedal”, constantly seeking to play at maximum speed.
Could this be the Achilles Heel in the Quins style of play?
Down through sporting history, arguably the greatest teams of all – and indeed the greatest captains and/or leadership groups – have developed a sixth sense of what to do (and how) in order to prevail when faced with reverses either on the pitch (e.g. in respect of injuries to key players, or perhaps the flow of a game) or on the scoreboard.
Let’s give Quins credit where credit is due – they, more than most teams, know that the game is never over until the Fat Lady sings. It’s one of the factors in their famous “comebacks”.
Their opponents – and the pundits acknowledge – it: when you play against Quins, there’s no secret about what you’re going to face. You have to be prepared for it and also have a plan to counter it. Without both those, you risk being overwhelmed.
That said, nobody can win all the time.
As recently as 29th April, playing away at Franklin’s Gardens, Quins put in yet another of their high-energy, all-action, performance and made a stirring second half comeback from a significant deficit … only to lose 32-31, right at the death.
A case of the Quins being out-Quinned. But then, stuff happens.