Rugby Union: Little but pain on the bottom line

Harlequins 22 London Scottish 20
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The Independent Online
A LONDON SCOTTISH supporter ringing the Clubcall line in midweek would have received the following message from the secretary John Smith: "Like the rest of the administration staff, I've been sacked."

Smith, who has been involved with the Exiles for more than 30 years, received notice on Tuesday to leave his office by Wednesday. Membership, ticketing and so on have been taken over by Harlequins, with whom London Scottish have become co-tenants at the Stoop this season, moving from the Athletic Ground at Richmond.

It is the latest symptom of the growing financial crisis enveloping the two struggling London clubs. London Scottish, who were founded in 1878, deny, however, that the move is the precursor to a merger. "It would not be in the interests of either team," Kirsten Baker, the Scottish press officer said. It was her last word on the matter. She has resigned.

The Harlequins press officer (an unpaid post) had already walked out because the club asked him to pay his own travelling expenses to away matches. This cost cutting exercise has saved Harlequins, whose annual wage bill is pounds 2.3m and who have lost upwards of pounds 4m in the last two seasons, the grand sum of pounds 460. Talk about shooting the messenger.

On the field things are not much better. Quins, joint bottom of the table, having lost their first three games, at least got off the mark yesterday in their first home match of the season, but it was dire stuff.

The skill level was such that if the clubs did merge they would still struggle to find a decent XV. Zinzan Brooke, the Quins player-coach, was absent with a knee injury, Keith Wood, once a Lions hero, was on the bench and Thierry Lacroix, playing his first league match after a knee operation, limped off.

A crowd of 3,609 (as the "away" side yesterday Scottish Supporters had to pay more for their tickets) saw just two tries. The first, in one of the few error-free passages, was scored by Dan Luger from a slick blindside move at a scrum near the Scottish line in the 16th minute.

The second arrived in the 74th minute when the Scottish, who had created several clear cut chances but failed to take any of them, finally crossed the Quins line, Eddie Jones rounding off a forward drive.

In between there was a kicking competition between John Schuster and Iain McAusland. They landed five penalties each (it was that sort of game) but Schuster's conversion of Luger's try proved to be the difference between the sides.

"It would be fair to say that we have not set the world alight in our first three fixtures," John Gallagher, the Quins director of rugby, said. "But it should be acknowledged that all of those matches were played away from home and we are the only club in the Allied leagues to have had this sort of start to the season."

It has indeed been a wretched beginning for the co-tenants of the Stoop. London Scottish, promoted from the play-offs, have just two points from a solitary victory in five Premiership games, although they could have made life even more miserable for their opponents yesterday had they capitalised on emphatic breaks from their half backs Guy Easterby and Simon Binns.

Harlequins: D O'Leary; J Keyter, J Schuster, J Ngaumo, D Luger; T Lacroix (capt, P Mensah, 31), H Harries; D Barnes, C Ridgway (K Wood, 75), A Yates (R Nebbett, 61), G Llewellyn, T Collier (G Morgan, 68), B Davison, C Sheasby, A Leach (R Jenkins, 75).

London Scottish: I McAusland; K Milligan, R Davies, J Bonney, C Sharman; S Binns, G Easterby; P Johnstone, J McLellan, P Burnell, G Manson-Bishop, M McAtamney (E Jones, 50), S Fenn, C Tarbuck, S Holmes (capt).

Referee: G Hughes (RFU)