Rugby Union: New Harlequin work ethic confounds French French; Harlequins 11 Montferrand 9

HEINEKEN CUP Montferrand undermined by Gallacher's gritty approach at Stoop while Pontypridd's surprise revival is reversed
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The Independent Online
"GOD, I hope it rains in Clermont-Ferrand next weekend," said John Gallagher, thereby breaking new ground as the first Harlequin in 133 years of blue-blooded rugby history to pray for bad weather.

Quins players used to like the sun on their backs; traditionally, the Hooray Henrys of Twickenham were more inspired by the thought of a bikini- infested beach and an exotic cocktail or three than by the prospect of 80 minutes' thud and blunder on a soggy afternoon in south-west London. No more, it seems. Nowadays, they positively crave the kind of downpour that might have persuaded Noah to forget the ark and build a submarine instead.

"We seem to be a better side when we haven't got the ball," continued Gallagher, the former All Black full-back, whose directorship of rugby at The Stoop continues to be distinguished by a quality increasingly uncommon in the unforgiving world of professional rugby: a sense of humour. Yet Gallagher utters many truisms in the course of his jesting, and he was being at least half-serious in analysing his side's return match with the Heineken Cup big-hitters of Montferrand this coming Saturday. Quins have transformed themselves into ruffians who prefer the going to be heavy rather than fast.

In squeezing out an unexpected victory over a transparently superior French outfit - a victory that gives them a chance of making the knock- out stage of the most lucrative club competition in the world - Quins played no more than 25 per cent of the rugby. For that matter, they made only 25 per cent of the errors while putting in 75 per cent of the tackles. It remains a moot point whether Rory Jenkins, Pat Sanderson and the excellent Adam Leach actually enjoyed Saturday's game, but the current back-row triumvirate can sleep soundly in their beds for the next few days.

They gave everything of themselves to the multi-coloured cause, which was just as well considering the presence of Olivier Magne and Arnaud Costes among the French breakaways. It was obvious as long ago as 1994 that Jenkins was seriously un-Quinnish in his enthusiasm for the nuts and bolts aspects of the game and, at 29, he is still doing more than most to sew a blue collar on to those famously finicky shirts of chocolate, magenta and French grey. But it was his Johnny-come-lately partners who really caught the eye.

Sanderson, no great craftsman but as fit as one of Nigel Kennedy's fiddles, allowed the lethal Magne to tear off into the distance in the first 30 seconds but was notably successful in cramping the great man's style for the following 79 and a half minutes. Leach, meanwhile, drove powerfully off the back of the scrum and accepted varying degrees of Gallic punishment in the rucks and mauls with a willingness that bordered on the masochistic.

If it was mean, hard-eyed, uncompromising stuff - both Garrick Morgan and Gareth Llewellyn were cautioned for punching during the first half - there were no apologies from Gallagher, who learned his trade in wet and windy Wellington and knows what it is to play a restricted game within given limitations. "We'd like to go wider, of course we would, but it's just not an option at the moment," he said with commendable honesty. "We've been without Jamie Williams, our top full-back and the best counter-attacker around, since last May and while his pace is denied to us, it's a case of having to do something else.

"When all is said and done, we kept Montferrand tryless. They're a class act, as I'm sure we'll discover when we play them in their own neck of the woods at the weekend, and the odds must have heavily favoured their scoring at least one try out there today. If they'd scored 20 points, even 30, I wouldn't have been particularly surprised. But by concentrating and staying honest, we stopped them playing. It may not be the Harlequin way but, hey, we're winning a few close ones."

This was as close as it gets. Montferrand, fast out of the blocks but over-indulgent with ball in hand, needlessly allowed the Londoners a fingerhold on proceedings, and they paid by conceding two penalties to the metronomic John Schuster and a daft try to Huw Harries, the Quins scrum-half. Costes, his brain presumably scrambled by the Wallaby-sized bunch of fives he had just received from Morgan, took a quick line-out throw to no one in particular and Harries reacted far more quickly than Gerald Merceron, who wasted valuable split-seconds waiting for a whistle from Huw Lewis. Merceron should have known better. The day a Welsh official comes to the aid of a French team Cliff Richard will declare himself an atheist.

For all that, the visitors started the second half a mere 11 points adrift with the elements at their backs. Merceron popped over a penalty within four minutes of the restart and when he added an absolute bullet of a drop goal just short of the hour mark, the chances of Quins emerging from the final quarter in one piece looked remote indeed. But emerge they did. Magne and Yves Pedrosa, a substitute hooker whose highly physical 23-minute contribution might easily have proved decisive, were guilty of costly knock-ons, while the Tricolore wings, Sebastien Viars and Jimmy Marlu, could not escape the attentions of Peter Mensah in the wide open spaces. When Viars dropped a second goal from a prime attacking position, it merely confirmed Quins in their belief that their line would not be breached.

"I think we probably chucked it away," sighed Paul Burnell, the former London Scottish prop. "It will be different next Saturday, though. Quins can expect a big step up in intensity and, besides, there will be 15,000 people in the ground." Provided there are also 15,000 umbrellas, the Londoners will not be unduly concerned.

Harlequins: Try Harries; Penalties Schuuster 2. Montferrand:Penalty Merceron; Drop goals Merceron, Viars.

Harlequins: D O'Leary; J Keyter, D Officer, J Schuster, P Mensah; G Rees, H Harries; J Leonard, T Murphy (capt), P Graham, G Morgan, G Llewellyn (S White-Cooper, 67), R Jenkins (C Sheasby, 67), P Sanderson, A Leach.

Montferrand: N Nadau (J Morante, 22); S Viars, J Ngauamo, X Sadourny, J Marlu; G Merceron (capt), A Troncon; E Menieu, O Azam (Y Pedrosa, 57), P Burnell, D Barrier, O Merle (J Thion, 57), A Costes, O Magne, D Gabin (E Lecomte, 57).

Referee: H Lewis (Wales).