Rugby Union: Lacroix flays the mediocre

Harlequins 45 Bourgoin 7
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The Independent Online
When the French are good they are, like Brive in last year's Heineken Cup final, unsurpassingly brilliant. But when they are like Bourgoin at the Stoop yesterday they are indescribably awful.

Bourgoin were certainly unrecognisable as the side who had handsomely beaten Cardiff last week. And yesterday they seemed disinclined to do anything other than scrap with their opposite numbers on the ground with the ball miles away.

For the game of rugby they showed not the slightest interest, although for most of what was an abjectly poor first half they would not have needed to rise very much above the indifferent to have embarrassed Harlequins. Yet at no time were Quins put under the slightest pressure.

At the end of the first quarter Thierry Lacroix, with a flawless display of goalkicking, had given them a 15-point lead, his five penalties the result of just about every indiscretion in the book from offside to deliberate knock-on.

By this time it was all too evident that the Frenchmen lacked the firepower up front to deliver the ball to their backs. Marc Cecillon, at the age of 38 and standing 6ft 2in at most, was hardly a match in the second row for Harlequins' twin towers of Garreth Llewellyn and Luke Gross.

It was hardly surprising then that Bourgoin scarcely saw the ball, although their scrum did have some success in disrupting Quins' all-international front row. This led to a series of unseemly but totally harmless dust- ups.

The nearest Bourgoin had come to scoring, and admittedly it was not all that close, was when they were awarded a penalty close to the posts but Patrice Favre very nearly missed the ball altogether, his scruffy miss- hit travelling all of five yards along the ground. Not surprisingly Bourgoin were reluctant to give him a second chance despite being awarded four kickable penalties in a five-minute spell of pressure midway through the first half.

For Bourgoin it was try or bust and it was Julien Frier the flanker who broke through Quins flimsy cover to score close enough for even Favre to convert.

Mercifully, for the paltry crowd, there was something to lift their spirits when Quins so unsettled the French scrum that they took the ball against the head. A spectacular reverse pass propelled into midfield by Huw Harries eventually found its way to Jamie Williams, who scored in the corner. No sooner had Lacroix converted majestically from the left-hand touchline than he was running over to the right to attempt the conversion of Johnny Ngauamo's try. This one, like the previous score, was the result of crisp handling and accurate passing between forwards and backs, but for once Lacroix failed with his kick.

The contest was over now, if indeed it had ever begun. Harlequins went in to half-time with a 23-point lead against a thoroughly disconsolate and totally disenchanted French side, for whom the word professionalism must have a different meaning.

If they seriously believe that people will regularly shell out good money to watch this rubbish they are even more deluded than the investors who are pouring cash into club rugby in this country. Harlequins have committed vast sums to producing a competitive side and to providing comfortable surroundings for their supporters, yet the warning signals were there for all to see yesterday. There were no more than 2,000 in the ground and very little they saw would entice them back.

In the second half Quins simply went through the motions and Bourgoin went through their substitutes. They used five in total but without any noticeable effect on their standard of play or their level of enthusiasm.

Quins scored another two tries, from Ngauamo for the second time and Keith Wood. Lacroix added to his first-half haul with a seventh penalty and a second conversion to give him a total of 25 points. At the final whistle the ever-present voice on the Stoop Tannoy invaded our privacy yet again with the announcement that tickets for Quins' next match were available on the hotline. For Bourgoin however it was straight to the helpline for counselling.

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, W Carling (S Power, 68), J Ngauamo, L Belligoi (R Liley, 60); T Lacroix, H Harries; M Cuttitta, K Wood (capt) (P Delaney, 76), J Leonard, G Llewellyn (G Allison, 68), L Gross, R Jenkins, B Davison, L Cabannes.

Bourgoin: N Geany; L Laflamand, G Cassagne (D Janin, 60), S Glas, Y Bonu; P Favre (A Peclier, 51), D Mazille; L Gomez (O Milloud, 51), JF Martin- Culet, D Morgan, J Dande, M Cecillon (capt) (F N Ibelle, 51), J Frier (F Grange, 51), P Raschi, M Malafosse.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Swansea).