Gloucester knew their unbeaten run, which included the winning of the LV Cup six days earlier, would end some time. They just did not expect it to end so emphatically here, against a club who have been working on their stand-up comedy.
For Harlequins, read Ireland on the final weekend of the Six Nations. The London club believed that they deserved a place in the final of the LV Cup, but they curled up and died when it mattered, against Newcastle. "There has been a lot of hurt and pain," said Conor O'Shea, their director of rugby. Ireland felt the same after their defeat by Wales.
So Quins took it out on the next team they faced, with a venom in the tackle that England could have used in Dublin. Seven tries, including a hat-trick for Ugo Monye, sent them vaulting into the top half of the Aviva Premiership, closer by far to the play-off place which is the ambition of every club in the competition.
The return of their England players, the lightening of their injury load and the impending availability(probably against Leicester next weekend) of the former All Black fly-half Nick Evans will make Quins a potent force in the run-in. O'Shea emphasised, too, the input of Nick Easter since the No 8 accepted the Six Nations trophy in a Dublin hotel after England's defeat.
"Nick went out and trained on Monday and you can't put into words what that means to the rest of the team," O'Shea said. "We needed to get our season back on track and he showed how much he wanted it. Nick and Chris Robshaw spoke powerfully during the week and, as a way of improving communication within the team, we had the guys doing stand-up in front of their peers in a pub in Richmond."
The jokes, O'Shea said, were nothing to write home about – certainly Gloucester failed to see the funny side. After 11 wins, they failed so miserably in the basic skills that their defence fell apart.
The first quarter gave no indication of what was to come, though the loss of the free-scoring wing Charlie Sharples with a damaged left knee did not help Gloucester. Then, in the 16 minutes prior to the interval, they conceded three tries to the fluid approach which is a feature of Harlequins at their best. Rory Clegg showed how fast he is maturing as a fly-half while Evans recovers from his hand injury.
Gloucester's set piece held up but Dave Attwood, the lock forward who was making his first start since a nine-week suspension ended his Six Nations hopes, has a long way to go to recover the devil in his game which appeals to Martin Johnson, the England manager. What was more, his team could not live with an offloading game from Quins that allowed tight forwards like Joe Marler and George Robson to make a telling impression.
It was appropriate that the first try fell to Joe Gray, the Quins hooker, and the second to Robson, lurking on the wing as many locks seem to do these days. Danny Care, Gonzalo Camacho and Maurie Fa'asavalu made the running down the right before Monye cantered into the left-hand corner for the third without a hand laid on him.
Bryan Redpath, Gloucester's head coach, did not mince his words. "That performance was unacceptable and where it came from, I don't know," he said. "But I'm glad it happened. It will refresh everyone's mind, that the game is very unforgiving if you don't turn up in the right frame of mind."
Marler, after an eye-catching 40-metre canter, sent Monye over and George Lowe scored the fifth try after the ball cannoned off Nicky Robinson. Gloucester were down to 14 men, with Alasdair Strokosch in the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-down, and when the flanker returned Henry Trinder cut through Quins to score.
But there was still time for Lowe and Monye to skip past the flimsiest of tackles and complete a week of mixed emotions for Harlequins. On Thursday they celebrated the renewalof their sponsorship by the airline Etihad but yesterday marked the final match for Mark Evans, their chief executive, after 11 years. For all the vicissitudes of the Bloodgate saga, Evans can look back with pride.
Harlequins M Brown (T Williams, 71); G Camacho, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall (B Urdapilleta, 58), U Monye; R Clegg, D Care (D Moore, 67); J Marler (C Jones, 55), J Gray (C Brooker, 55), J Andress (M Lambert, 55), O Kohn (T Vallejos, 58), G Robson, M Fa'asavalu, N Easter, C Robshaw (capt; W Skinner, 64).
Gloucester F Burns; C Sharples (J May, 13), T Molenaar, E Fuimaono-Sapolu (H Trinder, 61), T Voyce; N Robinson, R Lawson (J Pasqualin, 73); A Dickinson (Y Thomas, 60), S Lawson (O Azam, 56), P Doran-Jones (R Harden, 51), W James, D Attwood (A Brown, 67), A Strokosch, L Narraway (capt), A Qera (M Cox, 56).
Referee JP Doyle (London).
Tries: Gray, Robson, Monye 3, Lowe 2
Cons: Clegg 6
Pens: Clegg 2
Tries: Trinder, Molenaar
Pen: RobinsonReuse content