Joe Marler's momentum delivers Harlequins' first final
Harlequins 25 Northampton 23
Monday 14 May 2012
Though it is less than a month since they dispatched Harlequins on their own ground, Leicester will take note of Jim Mallinder's comment here on Saturday. Mallinder, the disappointed Northampton director of rugby, said: "If you have watched some of Harlequins' recent games, you will be impressed by their scrum, it has improved enormously."
So much so that England will take three of Harlequins' tight forwards on tour to South Africa next month: Joe Gray, George Robson and Joe Marler, the uncapped loose-head prop whose attitude while training with England this year has impressed the famously reticent Graham Rowntree, England's forward coach.
Marler, 21, Gray, 23, and the massive Jamie Johnston ("a young 26", according to Conor O'Shea, his director of rugby) were good enough to see off Northampton's vaunted front row and still canter around the Stoop so effectively that Marler was on the end of the driving maul to score the try which, with a conversion by Nick Evans, carried Quins to their first Premiership final.
"People always talk about our style of play and we can throw the ball about," said Marler, for whom style has included an eye-catching variety of haircuts. "But we want an all-round style of game. The scrum is a big area we have worked on and so is the maul, and they both showed out there. We will back ourselves against anyone and in the set-piece, that's where it all starts. If you don't get that right, you're going to struggle all day." It could almost be a Leicester player talking, so great is the Midlands club's attachment to the nuts and bolts of set-piece play.
Marler, though, would be the first to acknowledge the efforts of his second row, Robson and Ollie Kohn, in absorbing the difficulties posed by Northampton's scrum and then overcoming them. Nor did they buckle when Northampton, through Lee Dickson's try, established an eight-point advantage with 14 minutes remaining. "This season we've been in situations like that and we have the experience now to pull together and know what to do," Robson said. "If there has been recognition [by England], that's testimony to everyone in the group."
It may not have been the kind of game that Mike Catt, England's attack coach in South Africa, was expecting to watch but the respective back divisions virtually cancelled each other out by their defensive efforts. When Marler was driven over for his try with three minutes left, the only Harlequin not engaged in the maul was Tom Williams, the right wing. "We just thought: 'Sod running about, this is the way to score tries,'" Marler added cheerfully.
Had Northampton not been missing a four-strong England contingent (Chris Ashton, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood injured, Dylan Hartley suspended), they might well have made the final but Mallinder, who also saw the Anglo-Welsh Cup slip away to Leicester, expects to benefit from the experience gained this season. "We want to win big competitions," he said.
Scorers: Harlequins: Try Marler. Pens Evans 6; Con Evans. Northampton: Try Dickson. Pens Lamb 6.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, S Smith (M Hopper, 70); N Evans, K Dickson; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 68), C Robshaw (captain), N Easter.
Northampton B Foden; V Artemyev, G Pisi, J Downey (T May, 76), P Diggin; R Lamb, L Dickson (captain); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 65), A Long (R McMillan, 62), B Mujati (P Doran-Jones, 57), M Sorenson, C Day, J Craig (T Harrison, 63), P Dowson, R Wilson (sin bin 33-44; B Nutley, 76).
Referee A Small (London).
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