Best encourages Quins to free their spirit

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The Independent Online

Harlequins 28 Bristol 3

Dick Best (if he cannot make it in rugby he could always sell his name to a Jackie Collins potboiler) was in good form. The whole new ball game of signings, transfers, deals and sponsorship had, Best said, rekindled his career. But didn't he sound like a football manager? "I hope not," came the Best reply. "I'd like to think I can talk."

A few years ago Best was doing the talking for England, until Jack Rowell came along and decided he did not need another mouthpiece. Big Jack was at The Stoop on Saturday and perhaps it was no coincidence that he saw Big Dick's team rise to the occasion. Harlequins, recognisable in personnel but unrecognisable in spirit from the club that nearly died of relegation last season, staggered Bristol with the force of their forwards.

The result was five tries to nil and in only one respect did we see the quintessential Quins - in the absence of Pears they went into this match knowing they could not kick for toffee apples. Bristol must have thought they could infringe with impunity when they saw Will Carling volunteer for goal-kicking duty. The England captain banged over a penalty - 3-0 - and it was the first and last successful kick Quins made as they tried virtually everybody but the physio.

No matter. Bristol, stymied in their power base of the front five, outplayed in the back row and on the losing end of every 50-50 ball, gave what their coaching staff described as the worst performance of the season.

"Something is not happening in the forwards," Arwel Thomas said. "We were under the cosh all the time."

Thomas is the 21 year old student who was promised more than the pounds 3.70 return toll fare to cross the Severn Bridge from Neath to Bristol. With Neil Jenkins injured, Thomas and Matthew Lewis are the two stand-offs named in Wales's squad from which the team to play Italy in Cardiff will be named tomorrow. Kevin Bowring, the Wales coach, was also at The Stoop but lethargic Bristol did Thomas no favours. The boy himself thinks he is ready for the upgrade.

Quins have always been envied because of their City connections but in recent years other clubs have matched their corporate initiative. On Friday Quins announce a new sponsorship. The venue? The Savoy, naturally. Following the traumas of last season one of the best things Best did was to make Jason Leonard the club captain. The England prop, in the mould of Terry Claxton, another of Quins's east London characters, is getting a response from his forwards.

There is another reason for the Quins revival: Carling. "He's playing the best rugby of his career," Best said. "We wouldn't have beaten Orrell in the Cup but for him. He's rediscovered his club."

After the game Carling had a meeting with Rowell and had to spend some time entertaining guests in the corporate boxes. When he returned to the players' bar he had to fork out pounds 2 for a meal. It was just like the good old days.

Harlequins: Tries Kitchin 3, Watson, Bromley; Penalty Carling. Bristol: Drop-goal Thomas.

Harlequins: C Wright; S Hague, W Carling, W Greenwood, S Bromley; P Challinor, R Kitchin; J Leonard (capt), S Mitchell, A Mullins, A Snow, M Watson, G Allison, C Sheasby, R Jenkins.

Bristol: P Hull (capt); B Breeze, S Martin, K Maggs, G Sharp; A Thomas, K Bracken; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, P Adams, G Archer, M Corry, J Pearson (R Armstrong, 20), E Rollitt.

Referee: D Chapman (Yorkshire).