Rugby Union: Quins in a class above

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The Independent Online
Harlequins 89

Orrell 18

No Contest. As the rich get stronger so the poor are becoming seriously weaker. And no side in the First Division has been more grievously weakened by the movement of players to richer pastures than Orrell. Of the XV who represented the club for most of last season only three played at the Stoop yesterday, the others having been lured elsewhere by the promise of enhanced prospects. Not the least of the ironies yesterday was that two of their chief tormentors came from Orrell's own doorstep, the rugby league recruits Robbie Paul and Gary Connolly, who scored four tries between them.

Some of Quins' running was a delight. A bewildering and bewitching series of manoeuvres between forwards and backs, the handling slick and sure, the passing crisp and accurate. As the game progressed and the going became easier Harlequins paid scant regard to their formal positions and it became clearer to understand the club's weird numbering policy. Spencer Bromley was just as likely to pop up on Daren O'Leary's wing as was the hooker Keith Wood. They are all interchangeable.

It was no surprise therefore when, four minutes from half-time with the contest well and truly over, Laurent Benezech the French prop scored Quins' fifth try from the centre, albeit from a couple of yards' range.

And with Will Carling giving for the second week in a row a very passable imitation of a fly-half, the Quins backs were for the most part indulging in a game of unopposed rugby. Carling's personal goodie bag on a day when Quins were launching their youth initiative contained a try, a penalty and eight conversions. But even allowing for the fact that his kicking was at best wayward Harlequins succeeded in achieving a record league score at home.

The pick of their tries were scored by Bill Davison, after Paul had shimmied and shallied through the bemused Orrell defence, and by Mick Watson, scattering opponents to left and to right in a 30-yard dash for the line. But in the context of a match which was dead and buried after 20 minutes these gems lost much of their lustre.

There is talk of the clubs seeking to overturn the RFU's ruling that the First Division should be reduced to 10 next season. The clubs apparently want to retain 12. But there are no more than six at present capable of sustaining a competitive league. In their six league matches to date Quins have been severely tested only once, against Northampton last week.

The disturbing side-effect of non-events like this will inevitably be the influence they will have on spectator interest. The crowd yesterday of around 4,000, including a large number of free tickets to youngsters, would barely cover the wages of Quins' higher-paid performers.

The mismatch was as humiliating and demoralising for Orrell as it was undemanding for Quins, whose brief spell of relaxation at the start of the second half enabled Steve Cook to score Orrell's first try. But with a cushion still of 26 points Quins weren't exactly gripped by panic. Davison scored his try, the seventh member of the side to cross the opposition line, Huw Harries got his second followed by Watson, Bromley, Paul, Connolly, Harries with a third and the almost compulsory penalty try. In injury time Peter Anglesea scored Orrell's second.

It was annihilation and one's admiration for Quins was lost in one's sadness for Orrell whose successful struggle against the odds over the years appears to be over.

Quite simply Harlequins were in a different class and by this time next season will almost certainly be in a different league.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, G Connolly, R Paul, S Bromley (P Challinor, 16-26); W Carling, H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, G Llewellyn, A Snow, B Davison, M Watson, L Cabannes.

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

Referee: J Pearson (Durham).

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