Harlequins 16 St Helens 40: Lyon shows Quins beauty of new world

St Helens centre puts on the style as the game's latest London adventure bursts into life
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The Independent Online

Resplendent they were in the world famous Harlequins quartered shirt but these boys were not "fancy dans" playing the oval ball game like a bunch of toffs as one northern wit put it, but the latest incarnation of a professional rugby league side in London. No longer the London Broncos, they have joined with Harlequins Rugby Club to offer Londoners all year round rugby from both codes and, importantly, they have done so under the same brand.

They are Harlequins RL, enjoying exactly the same facilities at their hugely improved Stoop ground, and they will no doubt contribute some ideas to the union team. Why not? The games have been getting closer for years and anyone with the slightest interest in rugby in any form would have been thrilled to witness Jamie Lyon of St Helens. His speed of thought and sureness of hand would help any player and the flick back he executed in the 34th minute when chasing a ball to the touchline at full speed not only ensured the fourth Saints try but also the raising of every bum in the ground from its seat.

And even though Harlequins lost, that aspect - the theatre mantra of "bums on seats" - was a great success. Compared to an average crowd of 3,500 last season, 8,213 turned up for the start of the Super League season, although that figure was swelled by Saints' travelling fans.

There were enough England and Quins union shirts to suggest that the concept could be a success. How much of one though will probably depend on the team. Lose matches and struggle with relegation and the casual fans will find other activities in the capital to spend their time and money on, but build a play-off team and it could prove a secure home for rugby league in the capital.

The pre-season omens are at least encouraging as the chief executive Nic Cartwright explained: "Season ticket sales have doubled and we have sold 20 corporate boxes." From a business perspective that is good but they need to attract the union fans to be a real success and that is why yesterday's turn-out offers hope. The Six Nations was on and many would have preferred to watch France-Ireland on TV than trek out to Twickenham, but for those that did the general feeling was one of enjoyment.

"I like union and the scrums and line-outs, rolling mauls and stuff but there was much less stop and start today," said James, one of 500 Harlequins union season ticket holders whose curiosity brought him with his son to the game. "And I like the line breaks and off-loads." Incidentally exactly the skills that union has been trying to learn and develop from league in recent seasons. "Tries, lots of tries," added his 11-year-old son, who by the size of the grin on his face thoroughly enjoyed his first rugby league game although he was also proudly clutching a fistful of autographs. The good news for the architects of the idea is they will come again. "Of course we will" said James. "Although I needed the announcer explaining some of the ref's decisions. That helped a lot as I then knew what was going on."

''I hope the people give us another chance because today we didn't play well and we're upset about that," explained Harlequins coach, Tony Rea. "If they do come again we will put on a much better show. We missed so much of what we wanted to do," he continued.

And when they do come the locals will have to get used to that famed northern wit. When one Harlequins player was floored by a high tackle he was exhorted to "put on the other shirt and play a girl's game" although the fog horn then added that he had "come to London and expected champagne". The faux posh voice was amusing, the pint of ale telling, but in his desperation to be funny he was missing the champagne on the pitch, a hat-trick by Paul Wellens.

Harlequins: Gaffer, Sheriffe, Luisi, Smith, Bradley- Qalilawa, Dorn, Leuluai, Temata, Weisner, Heckenberg, Purdham, Hopkins, Williams (capt). Substitutes used: Haumono, Molls, Sykes, Tookey.

St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, Fozzard, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Wilken, Hooper. Substitutes used: Roby, Graham, Anderson, Fa'asavalu.

Referee: R Silverwood.

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