Quins fight it out

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The Independent Online
Harlequins 33

Gloucester 19

TO BE at The Stoop yesterday was to witness rugby union at its most glamorous. But only off the pitch. Ladies Day at Harlequins, complete with fashion show and celebrity luncheon, also consisted of a bad-tempered game of rugby which will live short in the memory.

The bottom line was a victory for title-chasing Quins just a week after they had stumbled at Bath - who promptly faltered at Gloucester. But if the Cherry and Whites assumed that last week's defeat meant they only had to show up with a snarl on their faces to win, they were proved conclusively wrong.

Quins are not the southern softies they have been portrayed as in the past. They have an abrasive pack and, in Mick Watson, a very physical presence who occasionally oversteps the bounds of acceptable play. On occasion yesterday, he certainly did.

But he was in bad company as Gloucester hooker Phil Greening, one of England's genuine young talents, blotted his copybook with over-use of the fist. For the legions of neutrals present to witness Harlequins' special day, it was a poor advertisement for the game.

Quins will much prefer to remember the slick handling which marked out their second-half performance. Leading 11-3 at the turnaround, they pulled clear with four splendid tries before Gloucester bagged a couple of late consolation scores through Chris Raymond and Tim Smith.

Full-back Jim Staples popped up in the line for the first of the telling quartet, before Daren O'Leary claimed the first of his brace in the right corner after collecting Will Greenwood's delicious chip. O'Leary, who now has 24 tries to his name this season, also sparked the day's best try with a delicate reverse pass to Greenwood.

The England A centre, who gets better by the game, took delivery of the pass, chipped the ball over his marker and regathered possession before sprinting in unopposed for a quite splendid try.

That was the good news. Laced in between the scoring passages - which had begun midway through the first half with a 13-point burst from the tidy outside-half Paul Challinor - were a succession of fights; the most prolonged coming on the stroke of half-time when the two packs squared up to each other.

Greening was twice admonished by referee Brian Campsall for misdemeanours, and Watson was shown the yellow card in the second period following an incident which led to Rob Fidler being helped from the fray.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Greenwood, P Mensah, S Bromley; P Challinor, R Kitchin; J Leonard (capt), S Mitchell, A Mullins, A Snow, S Lloyd, G Allison, M Watson, R Jenkins.

Gloucester: T Smith; P Holford, M Roberts, L Osborne, P Hart; M Kimber, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler (J Hawker, 61), D Sims (capt), P Miles, C Raymond, A Stanley.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).