When a club has lost its chairman, its director of rugby, its self-respect and its grip on reality in the time it takes to bite downwards on a blood capsule and then pretend it never happened, the loss of a second-row forward for butting – and, consequently, a game of rugby – seems small beer by comparison. But when Quins do bad things these days they do them in real style, like The Joker in Gotham City. George Robson lasted less than 40 seconds before being dismissed for a head-first assault on Joe Simpson at Twickenham on Saturday, which was some effort. You can barely slice open a chap's lip with a scalpel that quickly.
John Kingston, the entirely honourable and much put-upon head coach of the pantomime villains from south-west London, was not seen kicking a bottle in frustration. This came as considerable relief, for a Harlequins bottle might not necessarily be full of water. He did, however, summon the spirit of Arsène Wenger by claiming he had not seen the incident sufficiently clearly to pass an opinion, although if he had said, "For Christ's sake, it's one thing after another," no one would have blamed him. There again, Kingston was in charge at Richmond when the money evaporated and dozens of jobs went the same way, which really was a crisis.
Quite what possessed Robson, heaven alone knows. Will Skinner, his captain, pointed out that players tend to be just a little pumped up after three months without competitive rugby, but there is a difference between pumped up and stark raving bonkers. As for Simpson, suffice to say he was not best pleased. "The player apologised to me afterwards and I accepted it, but I'm still frustrated and disappointed at what happened," confessed the scrum-half, dabbing at his crimsoned nose. He was still groggy, too.
Robson's handsome contribution to the sparkiest free-for-all seen in Premiership rugby for many a long month ended with Dean Richards (the referee, not the coach) reaching for red (the card, not the capsule). Kingston allowed himself a wry smile at the coincidence. "It was glorious, the way they managed to appoint that particular referee to this particular match," he said. Still to come: Judge Jeffreys presiding over the disciplinary hearing?
Yet Quins may just have taken something positive from this calamitous fixture. Skinner himself played quite brilliantly for much of the match, repeatedly sacking Simpson around the fringes and generally setting a standard for the players around him. Ceri Jones and Chris Robshaw also caught the eye up front, Danny Care was full of beans at the base and to a man, the outside backs asked questions of Wasps in open field. Had Nick Evans been fully on his game at outside-half, his side might well have won with a man short.
"We could have sent on a message after George's departure saying, 'Right, let's slow it down'," Kingston said. "But that's not in our nature. We want to back ourselves whatever the circumstances, to have a go, to fire some bullets. I look at it this way: if you're going to die, there's no point in dying a slow a death." Those members of the Harlequins hierarchy implicated in the painfully convoluted "Bloodgate" cover-up might wish they had adopted the same philosophy, but that is another story.
Wasps are also in "speed is of the essence" mode now their wing positions are occupied by Tom Varndell and David Lemi. Varndell, the faster of the two, bagged a brace of tries here, the first following a round-the-houses scamper and out-of-the-tackle pass from Danny Cipriani, the second direct from a Quins line-out pilfered by Dan Ward-Smith. Yet it may well be that Lemi, the more instinctive rugby player, will prove the signing of the season. The pint-sized Samoan, blessed with tap-dancing feet and far stronger in contact than any 12st lightweight has a right to be, did things in tight spaces on Saturday that resembled minor miracles.
He should certainly enjoy life at his new club after years of swimming against the tide at Bristol. Down in the West Country, he saw precious little of the ball in advantageous positions but still scored tries by the bucketload. Wasps, twice as dynamic as his former employers in thought and deed, will give him all the opportunities he requires. A one-legged wing with a weight problem might score his fair share of points operating outside half-backs as sharp as Simpson and Cipriani. Lemi should prosper royally.
Not that Cipriani looked absolutely back to full pace after a summer of ankle surgery and recuperation. He cut some decent lines and his distribution had a pleasing snap about it, but even though he was spared the place-kicking duties – Mark van Gisbergen, the full-back, was the man charged with bisecting the poles – he pulled up gingerly on more than one occasion when punting out of hand. Rugby's annals are full of bright young things dulled by the effects of serious orthopaedic trauma early in their careers. It will be a crying shame if "Celebriani" is added to their number.
At least Tony Hanks, the new Wasps director of rugby, understands the dangers of playing ringmaster in the Cipriani circus. "We know the things he's capable of doing," said the New Zealander, "and when he stands up defensively and takes the line on, he's one of the best around. But that wasn't an error-free game out there." Cipriani needs time, and Hanks knows it. Provided those who think he is the only half-decent player in England also give him a little space, he should be fine.
Wasps: Tries Varndell 2, penalty try; Conversion Van Gisbergen; Penalties Van Gisbergen 3. Harlequins: Tries Monye, Camacho; Conversion Evans; Penalty Evans.
Wasps: M Van Gisbergen; T Varndell, B Jacobs, S Kefu, D Lemi; D Cipriani, J Simpson (W Fury, 79); T Payne, R Webber, G Bocca (B Broster, h-t), G Skivington, R Birkett, J Hart (H Ellis, 78), S Betsen (capt), D Ward-Smith.
Harlequins: U Monye; D Strettle, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall, G Camacho (G Lowe, 78); N Evans, D Care; C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 51), M Lambert (J Andress, 60), J Percival (J Evans, 51), G Robson, C Robshaw (T Guest, 69), W Skinner (capt), N Easter.
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).
Quick off the mark Famous early baths
George Robson's red card at Twickenham was one of the fastest in the sport's history...
Gloucester prop was the first England player to be dismissed in an international after he was dismissed for a late tackle after just two minutes against Australia in Brisbane in May 1975.
England lock was dismissed after 12 minutes against New Zealand in June 2004 Auckland after kneeing Keith Robinson in a ruck.
Moseley player was sent off for punching early in the 1972 Anglo-Welsh Cup final against Gloucester.
Rugby League has also seen a few early baths, none quicker than Morley. The Warrington prop was sent off after just 12 seconds of the first Ashes test against Australia at Wigan in November 2003.
and in football....
Keith Gillespie Sheffield United midfielder was sent off 12 seconds after coming on at Reading in January 2007 – technically no seconds as the ball hadn't come back into play.
Swansea striker was also dismissed after 0 seconds in November 1999, the substitute elbowing Darlington's Steve Tutill before play restarted.
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