What, you wonder, are these two clubs doing so wrong that they have to take their next encounter to Abu Dhabi. The marketing men have the answers, of course, but nothing beats a superbly contested game of rugby such as the one that was enjoyed by a capacity crowd here yesterday.
When the dust settled, Harlequins had vaulted to fourth in the Aviva Premiership, the play-off place which is the ambition of all. They also had the unmitigated satisfaction of having beaten Wasps for the first time since November 2008. When you consider the tradition of this fixture, much of it begrimed with local niggle, this was the best possible advertisement for English rugby in 2011. A wonderful first half in which all four tries were scored – including one which may well be the team try of the season – could not be sustained but that was no surprise in such heavy conditions.
The decision making and ambition of both sides and the sympathetic refereeing of Wayne Barnes made for a remarkable midwinter spectacle. And when they had to defend, Harlequins did not lose any stature at all: they spent virtually the entire second period in their own half but they restricted Wasps to a single penalty.
Barnes, England's leading referee, awarded only two penalties in the first half, in which there were seven line-outs and five scrums. That is testament to the time the ball was in play and the patience with which Harlequins, in particular, sustained their attacks.
"We're where we want to be," said Conor O'Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby. That was not a claim he could have made a month ago, when his club were eighth and developing a reputation for an inability to close out tight games. "We're in the mix in the LV Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup too and I'm very proud of what the team have shown over the Christmas period," O'Shea added.
Wasps pounded Quins' line in the opening 10 minutes, but the home team conceded no penalty and forced the first in the series of turnovers that marred Wasps' game. That was the worst Wasps failing.
Joe Marler started and finished the first Quins try, taking a clearance around halfway and prompting a wave of attacks and a dart by the influential Nick Evans that took the game into the Wasps 22. Tom Williams was inches short of the line from Danny Care's cross kick but good hands gave Marler, a loosehead prop who is interesting England, a chance to cross on the left, through the tackles of Richard Haughton and Steve Kefu.
Haughton then showed the more conventional skills of a wing, finishing good work by Riki Flutey and Mark van Gisbergen. Flutey, an England centre playing fly-half, showed great appetite in attack but like his colleagues found himself struggling to keep up with the breadth of the Harlequins attack.
The game's first scrum did not come until the 27th minute, and with it came the game's first penalty. The second Harlequins try was another fine effort,starting with Jordan Turner-Hall's ability to keep his feet in the tackle and finishing when Mike Brown timed his run superbly to take Care's short-side pass and score in the same corner as Marler. But it was the third Harlequins try that should be played to the Abu Dhabi audience before the two clubs meet in the LV Cup there on 30 January. It started with a turnover 80 metres from the Wasps line, but so swift were tight forwards like George Robson to lend support that play swept to the other end and Brown was all but over before Nick Easter forced a try which needed confirmation from the video official.
If Harlequins had hopes of a fourth try and a bonus point after the interval, they soon faded. The Wasps scrum gained the upper hand as Charlie Beech and Ben Broster proved quite capable of matching the home props and the academy flanker Sam Jones filled in on the wing when Kefu was forced off by injury. But a lack of composure, together with scrambling defence from Harlequins that was so well marshalled by Chris Robshaw, left Wasps with no more than a losing bonus point. They will think they deserved more, but Harlequins have left their generosity in 2010.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams (T Masson, 67), G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, J Gray (C Brooker, 37), M Lambert, O Kohn (T Vallejos, 61), G Robson, T Guest (W Skinner, 55), N Easter, C Robshaw (capt).
London Wasps M van Gisbergen; R Haughton (D Lemi, 57), B Jacobs (capt), S Kefu (S Jones, 61), T Varndell; R Flutey (D Walder, 49), N Berry (J Simpson, 13-23; 49); T Payne (C Beech, 49), T Lindsay, I Taulafo (B Broster, 49), M Veale, J Cannon, R Birkett, A Powell, S Betsen.
Referee W Barnes (London).
Tries: Marler, Brown, Easter
Con: Van Gisbergen
Pen: WalderReuse content