Ugo Monye: Smart man giving Quins that title look

The Premiership semi-final gives the snappy dressers a chance to match their undoubted style with some real success, as the Londoners' long-serving wing tells Chris Hewett

Ambling contentedly towards the VIP car park after another rollicking victory in front of a packed house at The Stoop, the elongated second-row forward Nick Kennedy was kitted out in his standard-issue Harlequins jacket, complete with velvet collar – the kind of thing Nigel Farage might consider fetching, if not exactly a vote-winner, and suspiciously suggestive of the club's old style-over-substance days. "Don't you like it?" Kennedy asked. "Blame Ugo Monye. He's the one responsible for the design."

Monye sees himself as something of a fashionista – not so very long ago, he organised a catwalk event at the Playboy Club in Mayfair – and under interrogation on the charge of grievous bodily harm to haute couture, he was resolutely unapologetic. "Everyone at Quins wears those jackets, from the office staff to the academy players," he said. "I'm quite proud of that: do you have the first idea how difficult it is to come up with something that suits John Kingston as well as Danny Care?"

Head coach Kingston is not assembled in quite the same way – certainly not in the same proportions – as England scrum-half Care, so it was a good point powerfully made. But those two contrasting figures have this much in common: Harlequins would not be where they are, lording it at the top end of the domestic game after three outstanding seasons in succession and firmly established as a trophy-hunting concern, without their input. And the same can be said for Monye himself. Indeed, it is reasonable to wonder whether anyone, including the rugby director Conor O'Shea and the captain Chris Robshaw, has given more to the cause.

No current player has put in a longer shift at The Stoop than the wing from Islington, who, after an eye-catching schoolboy career in track and field, agreed professional terms with Quins in 2002. He is, therefore, uniquely qualified to assess what has happened to the club in the years since his arrival and explain how it is that the pastel-shaded pushovers of yore have reinvented themselves as a side so difficult to beat that this afternoon's Premiership semi-final visit to Saracens, who barely know what it is to lose on their plastic pitch in north London, is less than a foregone conclusion.

"When I arrived," Monye says, "the Quins name – the brand, if you want to call it that – was a big deal, but the rugby we played didn't do justice to the image. The best thing people said about us was that we were a good cup side.

"In my first year, I remember us going to Wasps, who were on a 13-game winning streak, and beating them. Why did we win that game? Because we didn't command the respect of our opponents, and when you're not respected you can always pull a surprise victory out of the bag.

"But that was the trouble. We were an every-now-and-again kind of team... and it was bitterly frustrating.

"What changed? There were many contributory factors, but the big thing was relegation. When we finished bottom of the Premiership in 2005 – the year after we won the European Challenge Cup, which tells you all you need to know about the kind of side we were – everything was stripped down and laid bare.

"Yes, we managed to keep our squad together: I remember our captain at the time [the Springbok flanker Andre Vos] committing himself to getting us back up, and that was an important statement of intent. But in terms of our approach to our work, in terms of the way we thought about ourselves, there was a complete transformation. It was a terrible shock to us, being relegated. I also think it was the best thing that ever happened to us.

"I say that because the year we spent outside the Premiership was the year we found our identity – the year we worked out how we wanted to play our rugby. What we discovered about ourselves then has stayed with us: coaches and players have come and gone but there is a continuity to life at Harlequins that keeps us tight and gives us a clear idea of what we're trying to achieve.

"Since coming back up, we've had two things going for us: the courage of our convictions and a determination to enjoy ourselves regardless of the circumstances. It's why the Chris Robshaws and Danny Cares, the Mike Browns and Joe Marlers, can return here after a long spell away with England and be so driven in everything they do. Internationals don't always go back to their teams and perform with such energy and focus. It only happens when the people concerned really love their club. There are a lot of players here who don't want to be anywhere else."

The men in charge as the Londoners embarked on their rebuilding project nine years ago were Mark Evans, the chief executive, and Dean Richards, who was recruited as rugby director a few weeks after relegation was confirmed. The way Monye tells it, Evans was the architect of the new Quins – "he was the one with the vision, the one who came up with ideas of how we could reach our potential, both as a team and a business" – while Richards opened up the soft underbelly of the side and lined it with reinforced steel.

The fake-blood scandal of 2009 would end the latter's career at The Stoop and the fallout very nearly did for the tormented Evans too, yet it is barely possible to imagine these recent seasons in the sun without their contributions.

A dozen years ago, when Monye first pitched up at the behest of Colin Osborne (then the club's age-group coach, now the skills coach at elite level), Quins had finished in the bottom third of the Premiership table in each of the three previous campaigns. In the last three, they have been top four all the way, winning a first title in 2012, pushing Leicester hard in last year's semi-final and making this year's play-offs in exhilarating style, playing what has amounted to knockout rugby since late March and piecing together a five-match winning run under extreme pressure. If they can just find a way of finishing it off by beating Saracens and then reclaiming the prize at Twickenham a fortnight tomorrow, their most experienced player will probably cry like a baby.

"That first title was something I'll always treasure, but to win a second one under these circumstances would be the greatest achievement of my Quins career, 100 per cent," Monye says. "Two months ago we were given zero chance of making the play-offs. Those of us at the club were the only ones who thought differently, and people laughed in our faces.

"They're patting us on the back now. But we haven't won anything yet, have we? All we've managed to do is subject ourselves to an extra week of training.

"I hope this doesn't sound arrogant, but we believe we should be in the play-offs each season because we know we're a top-four side. What's important is the step beyond that. We won't be happy with anything less than the title."

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup