Quins high and mighty

Harlequins 44 Neath 22
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The Independent Online
It was a pity that the Referendum Party should have been meeting this weekend. That, clearly, is where the interest in Europe lies. It was certainly not at The Stoop, where a paltry crowd turned out to watch Harlequins relentlessly march towards a major title this season. They played some sumptuous rugby, scoring eight tries, and they luxuriated in their position of strength in the second half, weaving some bewildering patterns around Neath's bemused defence.

Had Will Carling, who was successful with only two conversions, been as ruthlessly efficient, the gulf between the sides would have been brought more sharply and more brutally into focus. For Neath it was another day, another drubbing. It was always certain that there would be casualties in the wake of professionalism but the speed with which it has destroyed some clubs, the high and the mighty included, has been astonishing.

With the two locks, the brothers Llewellyn, who had been at the core of their past triumphs now wearing Harlequins' colours, Neath didn't have much of a line-out when they started the match and after quarter of an hour, when Andrew Kembury went off injured, they didn't have one at all. All the more curious then that they should have persisted throughout most of the first half in kicking to touch.

By playing a game which was at least two years out of date, Neath were unable to profit from those frequent passages of play when Quins allowed sloppiness to intrude into and upset their high-speed, high-risk play. One of the few exceptions was when Steve Williams ran through some token resistance a minute before the interval, by which time the game had been won and lost.

When Quins got it right they were irresistible. The vision and the touch of players like Laurent Cabannes and Gary Connolly was at times breathtaking. Connolly's ability to see a couple of moves ahead and to keep the ball alive committed so many Neath defenders that there were gaping holes around him for his colleagues to exploit.

Not only did Cabannes' support play defy belief but the touch and timing of his passing were out of this world. They led directly to tries by Peter Mensah, Daren O'Leary and Jamie Williams. For good measure the Frenchman snaffled two for himself, once when the Quins' leviathan pack went for a pushover and again when he scored what was unquestionably the try of the match. O'Leary had just scored his second and from the kick-off Quins launched an attack just outside their 22. Jim Staples burst on to Connolly's pass and with Mensah and Robbie Paul as the links, Cabannes was over close to the post.

Carling's goal-kicking apart, he presents an unconventionally potent threat at fly-half, his muscular charges so often tying in the opposition fringe defence. His line-kicking was also of the highest order yesterday and it was from his impudent reverse pass that O'Leary scored the second of his tries.

Neath were at least left with the remnants of their pride, if not their reputation, which not so very long ago reduced the opposition to shivering wrecks. They terrify no one but themselves these days. No sooner had Ian Boobyer scored Neath's second try late in the game than they lost possession for young Williams, who had come on as a replacement for Mensah, to score his third try.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, G Connolly (P Challinor, 67), R Paul, P Mensah (J Williams, 40); W Carling, H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, G O Llewellyn, G D Llewellyn, B Davison, L Cabannes, M Watson.

Neath: G Davies; D Case, H Woodland, G Evans, R Jones; P Williams, P Horgan; J Davies (capt), B Williams, L Gerard, M Glover, A Kembury (I Boobyer, 15), R Jones, S Williams, S Martin.

Referee: N Lasaga (France).

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