Monye takes pride after Quins stride to the title
Harlequins 30 Leicester 23: Londoners announce arrival among elite by beating 'ultimate champions' Leicester
There was nothing of the Corinthian spirit behind Harlequins' decision to walk to Twickenham on the afternoon of their first appearance in a Premiership grand final, although the pastel-shaded Londoners remain the most high-minded of England's leading clubs, give or take the odd flirtation with fake blood and the occasional botched cover-up. They did it because the journey from their home at The Stoop was no more than a quarter of a mile – barely enough distance for a funny thing to happen on the way to the stadium.
Yet a funny thing did happen as they meandered towards the old cabbage patch on the far side of the A316.
"We knew there would be some Quins supporters on the street, but I don't think any of us expected so many of them," said the wing Ugo Monye, the longest-serving member of the team. "It made me think of how far we'd moved on as a club – about how we'd come through the bad times together and grown together as a side.
"By the time I reached Twickenham, I was saying to myself: 'We must have the biggest balls in the Premiership. We won in Munster when no one gave us a prayer; we beat Stade Français when no one believed we could. Now for Leicester.'"
Monye had wanted to face Leicester in the final. If that sounds strange – a little like a Christian requesting the presence of the very biggest and the very baddest of all the available lions ahead of his appointment at the Colosseum – the explanation made perfect sense.
"I looked at it this way: if we wanted to prove to people that we were a side worthy of this title, to announce ourselves on the stage of English rugby, then there were no better opponents we could meet," he said. "To beat the ultimate champions was the only way. Winning the trophy would be one thing; winning it against them would be really special."
And win it they did, beating "them" in style. There were some uncomfortable moments at the last knockings as the big beasts from the Midlands stampeded towards the Quins line, a strong whiff of extra-time in their flaring nostrils. But, if truth be told, this had more to do with Leicester's cussed streak – they really are a class apart when it comes to stickability – than with the quality of their rugby.
Quins were the better side to almost the same degree as Chris Robshaw was the best player on the field. Which is saying something, for the England captain was worth two of everyone else.
The best sides – and yes, the new champions have earned the right to be placed in that category – have certain virtues in common, most notably a high level of energy and a deep-rooted confidence. Just at the moment, the ridiculously energetic Robshaw is playing with the self-belief of a man who has somehow convinced himself he cannot lose. While many a high-profile international player has crossed the line that divides can-do optimism from cocksure arrogance, the flanker finds it easy to stay on the right side of the divide. What he does not find easy is playing a bad game of rugby. It is hard to remember a loose forward, leaving aside back-row titans of the All Black variety such as Michael Jones or Richie McCaw, stringing together so many match-shaping performances, one after the other.
Of course, Robshaw may be reintroduced to the unpleasant realities of defeat when he leads his country against the Springboks in Durban in 12 days' time but for the moment he has the touch of a master. Every bit as destructive in contact as his fellow flanker, the Samoan wrecking-ball Maurie Fa'asavalu, and very much the equal of the No 8 Nick Easter in his offload distribution, he was at the heart of the matter from minute one.
If his try towards the end of the third quarter was something less than a thing of beauty – Fa'asavalu's yardage from a line-out and Danny Care's sniping footwork laid the foundations for a close-range finish – it was still a joy to behold. No player could have been more deserving.
Harlequins, only the seventh club to claim the English title since leagues were first introduced almost a quarter of a century ago, had the look of champions from the get-go. While Leicester were falling off tackles in deeply uncharacteristic fashion – the two Georges in their tight five, Skivington and Chuter, were especially culpable – the alleged underdogs were opening the scoring through the boot of Nick Evans and the pace of Tom Williams, who finished off a neatly executed straight-spin-right routine in the corner.
Williams was among those most implicated in the fake blood scandal of 2009: it was he who obeyed instructions to bite on a capsule of bright red theatrical gunge, thereby paving the way for an illicit substitution; it was his tell-tale wink that was caught on camera; it was he who ultimately spilled the beans to the authorities. He did not emerge from the affair smelling of roses – quite the opposite, in fact – but he has shown a hell of a lot of fortitude in staying at the club and regaining his place in the first team. Many individuals, perhaps the overwhelming majority, would have headed for the hills.
Leicester, who matched their opponents try for try only because Steve Mafi (via Dan Cole) and Anthony Allen (via Ben Youngs) were able to capitalise on rare lapses of concentration, may take some time to recover from this setback. Before Saturday, the only rivals they feared on the big occasion were Saracens, who had pushed them in 2010 and beaten them to the title in 2011 and were equipped to take them on at their own game. Now they know there is a team out there who can beat them by playing very differently.
"Quins were better than us on the day," admitted Richard Cockerill, the Tigers' director of rugby. "Are they now a major force in English rugby, like Saracens? We'll see, won't we? The proof of it will be next season, when they're asked to do it all over again. If you reach a Premiership final two years running, you can legitimately claim to be at the very top end of the game in England."
He might have added that this was Leicester's eighth consecutive appearance in the May showpiece, but he did not. Having spent the afternoon watching his side concede what he considered to be cheap points, he was in no hurry to start making them.
Harlequins: Tries Williams, Robshaw; Conversion Evans; Penalties Evans 6. Leicester: Tries Mafi, Allen; Conversions Ford 2; Penalties Ford 3.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans (R Clegg, 76), D Care; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 72), C Robshaw (capt), N Easter.
Leicester G Murphy (capt); H Agulla (S Hamilton, 73), M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; G Ford (W Twelvetrees, 73), B Youngs; M Ayerza (L Mulipola, 73), G Chuter (T Youngs, 60), D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 55), G Skivington (G Kitchener, 73), G Parling, S Mafi, J Salvi, T Waldrom.
Referee W Barnes (London).
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