Monday 21st December: Harlequins ‘A’ 20 Bath United 16.
(1) an apology: because of my rather tenuous relationship with technical competence, I discovered overnight that I must have inadvertently pressed some unknown button on my bog-standard digital camera. As a result, all the photos I took of this match came out not as intended or expected, but in an impressionistic form as if painted by a modern artist. That said, the above illustration to this piece is at least my favourite of these strange images.
(2) readers should note that, out of care and concern for all youngsters seeking to forge a career in professional rugby union, in this piece I shall not single out individual players for adverse criticism or assessment but instead concentrate upon the positive.
Having been at the Stoop for the European Challenge Cup romp against Calvisano on Saturday, last night I found myself back there again for the next instalment in the ‘A’ League competition in distinctly colder and more sodden weather.
It was not a particularly fruitful evening from either a Quins’ perspective – despite a 23-man squad containing plenty of first team experience, including 11 who featured against Calvisano, Bath had the better of possession and inventive play – or indeed mine, whose primary purpose in attending ‘A’ League games is to spot young or emerging talent: it is indicative of something that I came home after the match having seen more of what ‘races my motor’ from the visitors than my own team.
This was a dull and disappointing match – for all their bluster and endeavour, our boys lacked punch, teamwork and seemingly leadership.
To continue my motoring analogy, it was as if they had great trouble finding more than second gear. As someone who had essentially only gone down there to see which players ‘put their hand up’, so did I – to the extent that, when I looked up at the stadium clock and saw there was only six minutes to no-side, I heaved a sigh of relief.
Then again, perhaps I’m being too harsh – there’s an old adage that in sport you can only play as well as the opposition allow and Bath played very well.
Their club is considerably under the pump at the moment because their summer acquisitions and forward momentum at the back end of last season – they were losing finalists in the Aviva Premiership – promised much for 2015/2016 but right now the wheels are coming off. Director of rugby Mike Ford, who was at the game last night, had spoken over the weekend of everyone – playing squad and coaches – having to ask themselves some serious questions after their recent poor run of form [they’re languishing in 9th position in the Premiership] and thrashing by Wasps in Europe on Saturday.
He would have felt more optimistic after the evidence of last night. The Bath team came out of the blocks like a collective Usain Bolt and it seemed to this viewer that it took the Quins side the best part of half an hour to make their first meaningful and concerted visits to the opposition half.
My report card this morning deals with the Bath team first.
Their backs, callow and willowy rather than muscled-up as the fashion is these days, were uniformly lightning-quick and well-drilled – they caused a sharp intake of breath in the stands every time they had the ball once play had opened up a bit.
It is probably doing some a disservice to single anyone out, but I particularly liked what I saw of their full-back Darren Atkins, centre Max Clark (part of a centre partnership with Rory Jenkins that also has England Under-20 experience), Jonathan Evans – a scrum half of Welsh origins – and Levi Douglas, the big rumbustious back-rower.
As for Quins, there were fewer who impressed. Amongst the backs Henry Cheeseman on one wing did some good things before retiring injured and, on the other, young Robbie Nairn – a big and powerful Scot in the mould of fellow countryman Tim Visser – who joined our academy during the summer and has already played for the Scottish national 7s team, not only looked impressively dangerous whenever he received the ball but also conspicuously went looking for work.
There were some heavy shifts put in among the forwards but I’m no expert on matters of the pack and could not identify anyone worthy of being mentioned in dispatches.
So there you have it. A damp squib of a Quins scouting outing [hey, I’m a poet!] and one which, on the run of play, could easily – and perhaps should – have resulted in a win for the visitors.