Quins adapt to the chaos

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The Independent Online
The new imperative even for the also-rans of club rugby is Europe, which has all the allure of a panacea for professionalism but will also have the useful effect of sparking fresh interest in the domestic season. Wasps certainly played as if interest had died when they were trounced 34-3 by Harlequins.

Such results are now regarded in European terms, since there is no such thing as Euroscepticism among the clubs who form England's elite. That Wasps should lose so heavily to their arch rivals from another part of London suburbia was bad enough and that it should take place at Sudbury worse still. But worst of all was the deleterious effect it will have on Wasps' continental ambitions.

For Quins it was precisely the opposite in all three respects. In particular, whereas Wasps remain rooted in fifth place in the First Division, one outside the present European limit, Quins are safely ensconced in third and on this evidence unlikely to fall victim to their regressive tendencies of other seasons.

With next season comes the first blast of club professionalism and without European TV money it will be all the harder to pay attractive salaries, not to mention the outrageous signing-on fees that many are purportedly demanding. Harlequins are better placed than most but even their own coach admits: "It's a state of chaos."

As Quins are routinely linked with any and every player coming on the market, as well as many who are not, we can assume Keith Richardson knows what he is talking about - though the wheeling and dealing is done by Dick Best, the club's full-time director of rugby. "The way rumour has it that Besty [sic] is signing people, we could have 15 new faces," Richardson said. "But I honestly think you'll have to wait until September and see who turns up with his kit."

As well as seeing where the money is. Quins already have the pounds 1.5m jersey deal that will next season turn them into a mouthful known as "NEC Harlequins . . . of London". And by the end of this month they expect to announce agreement with a major corporation to become a minority shareholder. Wasps would sting for such lucrative advance arrangements.

Quins are also ready to proceed with their new stand at The Stoop in the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames but Wasps have had the planning application to rebuild their ground in the London borough of Brent (Conservative majority: one) deferred at least until consultation with local residents has taken place. To this end, a "residents' surgery" was open at the club all Saturday morning.

As for professionalism, Sir Pat Lowry, Wasps' chairman, points out: "We haven't ruled out any option." One can take it from this that the club would be amenable to a sugar-daddy or better still daddies, but it has to be said that in this quest Wasps need the stimulation, on and off the field, that would be given by permission to proceed with the Sudbury development.

There were extenuating circumstances - aren't there always? - but their performance was not conducive to attracting those among us with the odd million to spare. Though less affected by England, Wasps were far further below strength than Quins but there was an evident malaise about their play.

How extraordinary that this was their first league or cup fixture at home in 18 weeks - a crazy situation brought on by the combination of Five Nations and freeze-up that followed the divisional games, and enough to induce palpitations in a club treasurer under the old amateur dispensation let alone the new professional one.

It was scarcely surprising, then, that Wasps were as dysfunctional as a season that had begun to go wrong months ago when they suffered the trauma surrounding the defection of Rob Andrew and others to Newcastle. Wasps made their point by getting rid of both Andrew and Dean Ryan but are so forgiving they still have "The Rob Andrew Special Limited Edition Shirt" for sale in the club shop.

On this inauspicious occasion Andrew's successor Guy Gregory began and ended the Wasps scoring with a 50-yard penalty after two minutes and if Quins had not had a familiarly bad day with Paul Challinor's boot the score would have been considerably worse. Even as it was, it was Quins' biggest league win over Wasps and Wasps' worst defeat of the season.

Harlequins swiftly replied to Gregory with a try by Spencer Bromley but aside from infrequent Challinor bull's-eyes they did not exploit their superiority until three tries came in a rush in the final eight minutes, two by Daren O'Leary and one by Challinor. In the meantime, the fractiousness commonly associated with this fixture most notably earned Richard Pool- Jones a yellow card for unacceptable footwork but the only premature departures were for injury.

Of these, the most distinguished was Chris Sheasby, whose splendid performance was put into still more flattering perspective by the fact that he had been in bed during the week with a chest infection. His knee injury, Richardson insisted, would not prevent his appearance in the England A back row against the Irish on Friday. Richardson happens to be the A-team's coach.

He is, however, not one to be complimentary when reverse psychology will do, whether it be Sheasby or any other Harlequin or indeed the Quins collectively. Sheasby, he therefore said, had had "damaged pride; he got some dirt on his knee". Even with Europe beckoning, it seems to be a novel concept that an NEC Harlequin of London should get his knees dirty.

Wasps: Penalty Gregory. Harlequins: Tries O'Leary 2, Bromley, Challinor; Conversion Walshe; Penalties Challinor 3; Drop goal Challinor.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Roiser, N Greenstock, A James, L Scrase; G Gregory, S Bates (capt); D Molloy, K Dunn, I Dunston (D Macer, 70), R Kinsey, A Orugboh, M White (J Worsley, 44), C Wilkins, R Pool-Jones.

Harlequins: J Staples (capt); D O'Leary, W Greenwood, G Harrison, S Bromley; P Challinor, N Walshe; S Brown, S Mitchell, A Mullins, A Snow (I Pickup, 17-30), M Watson, G Allison, C Sheasby (I Pickup, 58), R Jenkins.

Referee: S Lander (Irby, Wirral).