Quins in dismantling mood

Harlequins 66 London Irish 7
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The Independent Online
This is getting confusing. Once upon a time, back in rugby's pre-historic age - circa 1995 - people knew where they stood with Harlequins, an establishment bunch, clean-cut and well-to-do but so soft-centred they could only handle half a dozen real games a season. The Courage League was far too demanding so they left that to the working classes and concentrated instead on the glamour of the Pilkington Cup.

Suddenly, the world has shifted on its axis. Quins can no longer be lampooned as the operational arm of the Rugby Football Union; indeed, they have been so vociferous in their support of Epruc, the rebellious senior clubs' umbrella organisation, the committee room die-hards of Twickenham probably regard the Stoop as the sporting equivalent of Red Square. And in another bewildering departure, they have apparently decided that the league is worth winning after all.

Jason Leonard's side head the table with three emphatic wins from as many games, and their 11-try dismantling of a poor London Irish team underlined the fact that another of rugby's old certainties is being consigned to the dustbin.

There is, however, one thing of which we can be sure. If Keith Wood, the Quins hooker back in harness after 14 months on the treatment table, avoids further shoulder trouble and lasts a full campaign, he will be among the first names on the team sheet for next summer's British Lions tour of South Africa. Wood scored two early tries on Saturday against his countrymen, and repeatedly hoovered up loose possession to instigate attacking opportunities.

"Brilliant, wasn't he?" said Leonard, who partnered the Munster man in an extravagantly equipped Quins front row. "If he can play like that after so long out of the game, you have to say he's a potential Lion. There are only a couple of hookers in Britain who could even think about making his sort of contribution around the field." Pace, commitment and a shrewd positional sense allowed Wood, who was watched by a stand full of Irish selectors, to overshadow the debut appearance of Gary Connolly, the Wigan rugby league international.

Connolly had a rough time of it in the opening 40 minutes, gifting his opponents their only try midway through the half, but he found life easier after the break as the visitors disintegrated. "He gave away seven points but either scored or created 21, so he's well in credit," said Dick Best, Quins' director of rugby. With 182 points and 28 league tries already in the bag, so too are Harlequins.

Harlequins: Tries Corcoran 3, Jenkins 2, Staples 2, Wood 2, Connolly, O'Leary; Conversions Carling 3, Corcoran; Penalty Corcoran.

London Irish: Tries Flood; Conversions Humphreys.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, G Connolly, W Carling, M Corcoran; P Challinor (P Mensah, 60), H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood (H Brown, 76), L Benezech, Glynn Llewelyn, Gareth Llewelyn, R Jenkins, B Davison, L Cabannes.

London Irish: C O'Shea; J Bishop, R Henderson, P Flood, N Woods; D Humphreys (S Burns, 57), T Ewington; L Mooney, R Kellam, G Halpin (capt), G Fulcher, M O'Kelly, J Davidson, V Costello (B Walsh, 40), N Richardson.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).