This will not become a habit, I promise – posting twice in two days, I mean!
Yesterday I offered a snapshot of Harlequins’ coming rugby season from a fan’s point of view and today, having by chance last night alighted on the live BT Sports television coverage, I can now report upon the outcome of the Premiership 7s Group C mini-tournament taking place at Franklin’s Gardens.
It will not take long.
Some 11,000 fans turned out to see Northampton Saints, Saracens, Harlequins and Wasps play each other at 7s, with only the winner graduating to next Friday evening’s final at the Stoop.
It is an article of faith in sport that ‘derby’ clubs traditionally harbour a deep antipathy to their local rivals. Rugby is no exception and therefore you must allow me this side-swipe at Wasps.
Previously there had been four supposed ‘London’ clubs – London Irish (who play out of Reading); Saracens (who play out Watford/Mill Hill way); London Wasps (who play out at High Wycombe); and of course Quins. As you might expect, Quins fans justifiably look down upon the others because we support the only ‘true’ London club. We therefore applaud the long-overdue decision of London Wasps to drop the world ‘London’ from their name.
Put bluntly, there is a world of difference between specialist rugby 7s – as played on the IRB Word Sevens circuit, at the Commonwealth Games and (soon as it will be) at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – and what was on display last night, viz. Premiership club 15-a-side squads playing each other with 8 players missing.
Jim Mallinder, director of rugby at Northampton Saints, admitted as much in his interview with Martin Bayfield in between games by mentioning that their 7s squad had only begun preparing two days previously, whilst adding the sop to BT Sport, the Premiership authorities and indeed their sponsors that “… Of course, this is a great opportunity for our youngsters to show what they can do”.
The impression that this was a mickey-mouse tournament was reinforced by exposure to the four teams’ line-ups. As a Quins man, I recognised the names of half a dozen players at most of the 36 in total contained in our three opponents’ squads.
Mind you, there were three I’d never set eyes on before in the Quins squad, these guesting for us from ‘feeder’ clubs!
Quins featured Charlie Walker (former England Under-20 winger/centre) as captain, Ollie Lindsay-Hague (former England 7s) as playmaker, James Chisholm (current England Under-20 number 8) and a couple from the academy – Joe Marchant (England Under-18 centre) and Henry Cheeseman (England Under-18 back row forward).
They proved far too strong for the rest of the competition.
In a game that lasts just seven minutes each way, with a one-minute half-time interval, it’s quite hard to post telephone numbers but that’s what Quins did, beating Saints 40-7, Saracens 36-0 and (having already won the tournament, with the pressure off) Wasps by just 26-19 in their three games.
Separately, I wished to mention an extraordinary thing that happened to me shortly before lunch yesterday.
For reasons that need not detain us here I spent the morning at the Richmond reference library, researching an elderly Edwardian gentleman who had died in 1914. Upon discovering by chance – as hoped – the details of his funeral, I then went home, jumped into my car and set off to East Sheen cemetery (where it had taken place), in the hope of finding his grave. With the help of the staff there, I am happy to report that I duly found my quarry and thereby induced a glow of self-satisfaction at my morning’s work.
However, that is not the point of my tale.
Many years ago now my aged father, in discussing the greats of post-War rugby, had mentioned England international ‘Nim’ Hall as being one of the most naturally talented rugby players he had ever witnessed in the flesh. I’d never heard of him and so did some research on the internet. My father mentioned that Hall had apparently been a sad individual – having developed some personal problems, he took to drink and, before his premature death, was believed to have been last heard of as a semi-vagrant selling deckchairs somewhere.
Yesterday, having located the aforementioned grave I was seeking, I was walking back to the entrance of East Sheen cemetery, idly reading the names upon the graves nearest to me to my left … when I came upon that of ‘Nim’ Hall!
Its inscription read:
‘Norman Macleod Hall (‘Nim’); beloved husband of Penny and father of Ian; died 25th June 1972 aged 46 years; A courageous captain in the field of English rugby union.’
For those who might be interested, here is a link to his details as recorded on the website of ESPNSCRUM.COM