Quins stay affirmative with 'yes' man O'Shea
Gloucester 9 Harlequins 28
Just about the only time Conor O'Shea, the increasingly authoritative boss of an increasingly effective Harlequins outfit, used the word "no" in the aftermath of this deeply satisfying victory was when the subject of the England coaching vacancy arose. "I'm not interested," O'Shea said, in the kind of utterly decisive tone Margaret Thatcher might have used on being invited to Edward Heath's pad for a glass of dry sherry and a chat about sailing. The rest of the time, he was very much a "yes" man.
The rest of the conversation unfolded in the affirmative. Yes, the Samoan flanker Maurie Fa'asavalu is probably the best foreign signing made by any club since Quins themselves talked Nick Evans into abandoning his All Black career; yes, Joe Marler has what it takes to force his way into the red-rose front row sooner rather than later; yes, Nick Easter's speed of thought compensates for whatever he may lack in the fleetness of foot department (although the international No 8 was sufficiently quick, just about, to trundle 30-odd metres for the final try after some clever jiggery-pokery in the Londoners' midfield). On all of these subjects, including the outright rejection of any notion that he might be Martin Johnson's successor, it was impossible to argue with the Irishman.
"I have players – people like Chris Robshaw and George Robson – who have committed themselves to this club until 2015 and I want to commit to them," he said. "I will take a great amount of pleasure in years to come if a load of our guys are out there representing England. Me? My job is at Quins, full stop." It was indeed a "yes, that's a no" moment.
And why wouldn't he stick with what he has? O'Shea's team remain unbeaten across three competitions, having won a dozen matches on the bounce, so by moving to the darker, infinitely dodgier part of Twickenham, he would effectively be swapping a joyous tramp across the sunlit uplands for a hazardous walk up the fast lane of the M25. At what point are England likely to clock up 12 consecutive victories, half of them away from home? Not this side of Doomsday.
O'Shea's assertion that this game had something of the "statistical anomaly" about it was also correct. Gloucester dominated territorially for long periods, but they butchered any number of scoring opportunities, gen-erally through throwing important passes too early and to no one in particular, while Quins had only three clear-cut scoring opportunities and grabbed them all.
Marler and Easter's dynamic driving created the first for Mike Brown; the newcomer Matt Hopper recovered from a desperate opening half-hour against Lesley Vainikolo – at times, he appeared to be no more irritating than a wart on the outsized wing's neck – to make the line in an Akapusi Qera tackle; and Easter wrapped it up late on with his long-range clodhop.
Their victory was, more than anything, based on a defensive performance of the kind not frequently associated – or perhaps ever associated – with the Londoners. Robshaw, who might have been considered deeply unfortunate not to make the World Cup squad had the World Cup squad been worth making, could not conceivably have given more of himself in the tackle and the same went for the Quins' tight unit, in which the unsung Robson was outstanding.
And then there was Fa'asavalu, the best open-side flanker at the recent global gathering and no mean blind-side flanker either. Gloucester's most threatening spell coincided with his departure to the sin bin: his second-half hit on Qera might have qualified as a tip-tackle had the Fijian been in the air rather than on terra firma, but as the latter was the case he can only have been penalised for being unnecessarily mean to a fellow South Seas islander. And being mean is not yet a crime in rugby, although the refereeing fraternity are clearly working on it.
Gloucester: Penalties Burns 3. Harlequins: Tries Brown, Hopper, Easter; Conversions Evans 2; Penalties Evans 3.
Gloucester J May; C Sharples, H Trinder, M Tindall, L Vainikolo (T Voyce, h-t); F Burns (T Taylor, 62), R Lawson (D Lewis, 56); N Wood (D Murphy, 70), S Lawson (D Dawidiuk, 60), R Harden (D Chistolini 70), W James (T Savage, 59), J Hamilton, P Buxton (capt, L Narraway, 70), A Qera, A Strokosch.
Harlequins M Brown; S Stegmann, M Hopper (T Casson 73), J Turner-Hall, S Smith; N Evans, K Dickson (D Care 46); J Marler (N Mayhew 72), J Gray (C Brooker 57), J Johnston (T Fairbrother 50), T Vallejos (C Matthews 73), G Robson, M Fa'asavalu ( L Wallace 76), C Robshaw (capt), N Easter.
Referee C Berdos (France).
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