It may be obvious but they like nothing better around here than singing “You ain’t seen nothing like the mighty Quins.” For Harlequins this was something of an acid test and the litmus paper came up multi-coloured. For much of the match Quins were behind but in the end they were good, or mighty enough, to defeat the team that sits at the top of the Guinness Premiership.
Quins have already achieved something that has eluded Gloucester, a bit of a milestone in reaching the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and yesterday they put down another marker as they consolidated their position in the healthier half of the league. Quins got home by two tries to three penalties, the second, winning, touchdown coming from the excellent young wing Tom Williams four minutes from the end. It had to survive the scrutiny of the video official and for good reason.
Quins put the Gloucester defence under extreme pressure and Williams emerged from the chaos with a tentative hold on the ball which became even more tentative when he was clobbered by the opposing captain Gareth Delve. Williams touched the ball down not over the line but on it, and not with his hands but part of his forearm.
The contest was marked not only by the presence of two former All Blacks stand-offs in Nick Evans and Carlos Spencer but the feisty Deans, Richards and Ryan. No prizes for guessing who was smiling and who was complaining about harsh refereeing decisions.
“Playing at home and winning at home is important,” Dean Richards, the Quins coach, said. “The crowd was fantastic. You only had to hear the reception the players got when they ran onto the field.”
There were several key moments, not least a brilliant solo try from Evans early in the first half.
The New Zealander, who was feeling under the weather, turned defence into spectacular attack with a break from his 10 yard line that totally nonplussed Gloucester. In a dazzling run, he sidestepped Rory Lawson and also beat Iain Balshaw before touching down under the posts. With two such tremendously strong defences it needed an act of utter unorthodoxy to break the mould and Evans provided it.
Quins’s 7-0 lead became a deficit when Olly Barkley got his kicking boots on and as the match progressed, the visitors looked the more likely winners, particularly after the veteran Olivier Azam came on after 50 minutes. The Frenchman, a master of the dark arts, got down to work in the front row and the Cherry and Whites looked as if they were going to scrummage their way to victory. “When Azam came on it became a shit fight,” Richards declared, and the former Leicester and England No 8 knows a thing or two about such things. “I wasn’t surprised. Azam has been around the block a few times but we played through that.”
The lugubrious Richards became quite enthused when he warmed to the theme. “Our defence was very good and it’s a big part of our game. To score two tries to nil tells its own story and we have a team of youngsters who are just so keen to play rugby. We also have a great group of senior players and everybody is buying into the way we want to play.” How far can Quins go? “It would be very nice to get into the play-offs at the end of the season,” Richards said, “but some factors, like injuries and refereeing decisions, are out of our hands.”
Don’t talk to the other Dean about the judgment of the whistleblower. He saw any number of questionable decisions from the referee Dave Pearson in the build up to Williams’ crucial try. “We worked so bloody hard to stay in the game and we should have got something from it,” Ryan said. They did, a consolation bonus point that enabled them to keep Sale at arm’s length at the top of the table.
Ryan thought it very odd that Gloucester had won five scrums in a row, going forward at “100mph”, and yet were penalised at the next. He was perhaps most disappointed in his team’s kicking game. “We put ourselves under pressure and didn’t kick that smartly. When we get key opportunities we’ve got to be honest about why we let them slip away. I don’t think there’s any question mark over whether Gloucester can win or play rugby.” But there is a question mark over whether they can go the entire distance and emerge as champions from the play-offs.
Evans missed a penalty in the fifth minute before he produced his contender for the try of the season two minutes later but then Barkley began to chip away. By half-time the score was 7-6. Evans may have had the energy to run 70 yards for his showstopper but he missed another shot at goal and was then replaced at half-time by Chris Malone.
Evans had been suffering from a virus and felt tired; Malone had no such excuses. He failed with two penalty attempts but Williams came to the rescue in the 76th minute. “He’s playing out of his skin,” said Richards. It was by the wing’s skin of his forearm that Quins got home.
Harlequins: M Brown (U Monye, 55); D Strettle, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall, T Williams; N Evans (C Malone 40), A Gomarsall (J Poluleuligaga 60); C Jones, G Botha, M Ross, O Kohn (J Evans 51), G Robson, C Robshaw, T Guest, W Skinner (capt).
Gloucester: I Balshaw; C Sharples, H Trinder (A Allen, 43) O Barkley, J Simpson-Daniel; C Spenser, R Lawson; N Wood, A Titterrell (O Azam, 50), G Somerville, M Bortolami (A Eustace, 50) A Brown, L Narraway, G Delve (capt), A Hazell (A Satala, 77).
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).Reuse content