Twenty years ago, the Scotland captain David Sole took the field for a Five Nations match with Wales to find his three front-row opponents sporting identical skinhead hair-dos. "It might make you look hard in Neath," he growled at the first scrum, "but it means bugger-all where I come from."
With this in mind, it was interesting that Joe Marler, the most talked-about young prop in England, should pitch up at Kingsholm looking like Hiawatha – or, perhaps more accurately, the Robert De Niro character in Taxi Driver. "You looking at me?" Marler appeared to be asking the troglodytes in the Shed. Yes, young man, they most certainly were. And they didn't much like what they saw.
Marler went almost the full distance – no mean feat for a rookie fresh out of his teens – and had the last laugh on Paul Doran-Jones when he goaded the England forward into landing one on him, smirking as the older man departed for 10 minutes of penance that helped bring the Londoners back into the match. He also won a penalty off Doran-Jones at a scrum a few minutes from the end of normal time, smirking again as Nick Evans landed his left-sided kick to square things up at 26-apiece. By now, all Marler's earlier hassles and humiliations at the set-piece had been forgotten. Brazen enough to play at a place like this with a haircut like that, he had the air of a match-winner about him.
Who knows? Quins might have prevailed had Marler not been withdrawn, to a cacophony of booing, as the clock ticked past the 80. Ceri Jones, infinitely more experienced but unfamiliar with the temperature of the contest, was immediately faced with a defensive scrum five metres out – a scrum won so comprehensively by Gloucester Brett Deacon was able to claim a decisive pushover try.
If it seems a little odd to be talking about the role of pug-ugly props in a high-scoring production that generated rugby of considerable beauty, not least when Nicky Robinson and Charlie Sharples were setting sail down the right in a series of raids on the Quins line, there is no denying that the seeds of Gloucester's triumph were sown up front.
The home pack, strengthened by the hard-working Deacon, established something approaching complete superiority in the first half, towards the end of which Luke Narraway, playing on the open-side flank, gave Sharples the sweetest of scoring passes to complete a try as good as anyone has registered all season.
Leads of 23-10 and 26-13 were no more than they deserved, yet Quins, through a combination of bloody-mindedness and the peculiarities of Tim Wigglesworth's refereeing at the contact areas, never quite went away and, when Doran-Jones was given no choice but to go away for a while, they capitalised quickly. "I didn't see much in the incident," said Bryan Redpath, the Gloucester coach, "but if there's something going on in the scrum, you can't take it with you into open play. If that's what Paul did, he was a bit daft."
As Gloucester forfeited a second prop when Nick Wood was judged to have sent George Robson crashing to earth at a line-out, the daftness seemed to be catching. But they were good value for their win, even if Chris Robshaw, the Quins captain, felt he had touched down in the left corner in the last play of the game.
"Robshaw scored," said the Londoners' director of rugby Conor O'Shea, in a tone that brooked little argument. "He was pushed over the line by George Robson, and their full-back will confirm it. Such is life."
Actually, the full-back in question, Olly Morgan, did not confirm anything of the sort. Not in public, at least. What really happened will forever remain a mystery. Just like Marler's haircut.
Gloucester: Tries Lewis, Sharples, Deacon; Conversions Robinson 3; Penalties Robinson 4. Harlequins: Tries: Care, Evans; Conversions Evans 2; Penalties Evans 4.
Gloucester O Morgan; C Sharples, H Trinder, M Tindall (capt), J Simpson-Daniel; N Robinson, D Lewis (J Pasqualin, 57); N Wood (M Cox, 76), S Lawson (O Azam, 72), P Doran-Jones, D Attwood, A Brown, A Strokosch (P Buxton, 48, P Capdevielle 52-63, A Dickinson, 69), L Narraway, B Deacon.
Harlequins M Brown; G Camacho, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, T Williams (O Smith, 56); N Evans, D Care; J Marler (C Jones, 80), C Brooker (J Gray, 55), J Andress (M Lambert, 48), T Vallejos (T Guest, 52), G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), W Skinner, N Easter.
Referee T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).Reuse content