Rugby Union: Quins bask in superiority

Harlequins 89 Orrell 18
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Harlequins 89 Orrell 18

So money can buy success. Harlequins and Newcastle have proved that.

Their runaway wins - in Newcastle's case their 156 points against Rugby was a National Leagues' record, bettered only by St Brendan's Old Boys 170-point haul in a Somerset Three match last December - did not just reveal a gulf in playing class, it also heightened the divide which has been there since the game went professional in August 1995. The game is boiling down to the Haves and Have-nots. And that is sad.

Orrell seem to have lost out on all fronts. During the 100 years' war with rugby league local talent gravitated to Wigan. Once rugby's Berlin Wall was brought down, it was not unreasonable to expect that Orrell would be able to benefit from cross-code transfers. No such luck. The players, naturally, went where the money was, and Orrell missed out again.

So they entered The Stoop Memorial Ground on Saturday rather like an apprehensive bull enters the ring. The 4,650 people gathered at Quins had come to witness a ritual slaughter, and they got it. Rugby must have had similar emotions at Kingston Park in front of the Newcastle faithful.

But the inevitability of the outcome in both matches can surely not do the game any good in the long term. As Dick Best, the Harlequins director of rugby, pointed out, there has been a premiership within the Courage League's First Division for some time. The injection of wealth to the elite has simply reinforced the state of affairs.

Newcastle were able to run in 24 tries, including the by now obligatory penalty try, for their highest home League score. Quins fell just two points short of their own record at West Hartlepool last season. Will Carling converted eight tries, including his own, and kicked a penalty. But his days at stand-off look numbered. His second match in the pivotal role was not a disaster by any means, but coach Andy Keast still said: "Will could do better. He tried hard, but he played fly-half like a centre. We won't pick him there for the European competition on today's performance. He gave 100 per cent, but it is an area he is still going to have work at."

Paul Challinor, the regular stand-off, was on the bench. His elbow injury is clearing up nicely, but while he had been in terrific form until being sidelined, his enforced absence has shown that Quins need back-up for him.

They may well look to Robbie Paul. The Bradford Bulls' captain was brought into the centre alongside his rugby league colleague Gary Connolly and the pair of them picked up a couple of tries and produced breathtaking breaks, revealing superlative handling skills at times.

Paul may find himself based more permanently at Quins. Best admitted as much when he said: "Signing these rugby league players on a more long- term basis is something we will have to look at very carefully. And perhaps have a look with the bean counters here and see whether they want to continue playing rugby union and also whether we can afford to do it."

The answer to both is an almost certain yes; the consequences are less certain. The two things it seems money cannot buy in rugby union at the moment are unity off the field and equality on it.

Harlequins: Tries Harries 3, Paul 2, Connolly 2, Bromley 2, Benezech, Carling, Davison, Watson, penalty try; Conversions Carling 8; Penalty Carling. Orrell: Tries Cook, Anglesea; Conversion Strett; Penalties Strett 2.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, G Connolly, R Paul, S Bromley (P Challinor 17-25); W Carling, H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, G D Llewellyn, A Snow, B Davison, L Cabannes, M Watson.

Orrell: R Hitchmough; J Naylor, L Tuigamala, D Lyon (capt), J Smith; M Strett, S Cook; M Worsley, M Scott, P Turner, P Rees, P O'Neill, P Anglesea, N Gregory, A Bennett.

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm, Cleveland).