Rugby Union: Harlequins look south in order to advance

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The Independent Online
THEY HAVE been called the City Slickers and were regarded for a long time as a soft touch, but stand by for a rude awakening. After all the talk of Southern Hemisphere rugby showing the rest of the world the way, it seems most of the southern part of the globe has turned up at The Stoop Memorial Ground in Twickenham.

The old, outmoded Quins model which epitomised "rugger" in this country has been exchanged for an up-to-date version: managed by professionals, coached by experts and driven by Southern Hemisphere nous and fervour. This season the rest of the Allied Dunbar Premiership can expect a hardened Harlequins approach, tempered by steely teak-tough individuals.

Two days ago their new captain and coach, the former All Black Zinzan Brooke, marked his second match back after an eight month lay-off by becoming involved in a tussle with Bristol lock, Chad Eagle, in a pre-season friendly. The pair were oblivious to the referee's whistle and could not be separated until after the premature end of the match. Brooke shrugged off the incident but did admit yesterday: "I don't know what a friendly game is."

That should be warning enough to their rivals. And Brooke's attitude is likely to be adopted by the rest of the squad. His coaching team of the former All Black centre Bernie McCahill and the former Queensland and Natal prop Adrian Skeggs will share the same views; and there is little doubt that the hard-line philosophy will be adopted by the streamlined Harlequins squad, reduced from 44 to 33.

But Brooke and another All Black old boy, John Gallagher - the new Director of Rugby - will also be bringing an enlightened approach to training. Brooke, capped 58 times with the All Blacks, will be exerting his influence throughout the season from the middle of the back-row and on the training pitch: "Last year the guys were spending nine hours a day, six days a week here. Doing that for 10 months of the year would drive me nuts," he explained.

And Gallagher, London-born but who developed his game in New Zealand, winning 18 caps for the All Blacks, added: "You want the players to turn up at the office on Saturday wanting to work, not arriving for the sixth day on the trot thinking `Here we go again'."

The emphasis will be on quality training and Brooke said: "The players will be responsible for their own fitness, which will be checked. When we do have training sessions they will be just for a couple of hours, not the whole day."

The Southern Hemisphere influence does not stop with the coaching and management side. Besides those four, Harlequins have acquired the services of John Schuster, born in Western Samoa and holder of 10 All Black caps at centre. Vaughan Going, nephew of the legendary All Black scrum-half Sid, is also on the books.

Yesterday Harlequins received confirmation that the Australian lock Garrick Morgan had been granted a work permit, while they have also obtained the services of the Cambridge Blue hooker Tom Murphy, a Queenslander. Those signings brought the Southern Hemisphere playing contingent up to eight. But they still need to sign two or three more players, with back-row forwards a priority. Gallagher said they would be looking for English players this time. Whatever their nationality, they will not be City types.

West Hartlepool are to share Hartlepool United FC's Victoria Ground this season.

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