Dean Ryan, the Worcester director of rugby, has had his share of issues with referees in the short time he has been back in the Premiership coaching game, so when the international official Wayne Barnes picked on his players with a vengeance here last night – there were enough flashes of bright yellow to obviate the need for floodlights – he was some way short of delighted. But it was not Barnes who condemned his team to this thrashing. The culprits were Worcester themselves.
Individually speaking, they had some things going for them outside the scrum: David Lemi’s chasing from the left wing, the occasional heavyweight tackle from Ravai Fatiaki in midfield, and the sheer indefatigability of Paul Hodgson at half-back were all of value. But collectively, they were as soft as putty – particularly around the tackle area, where Chris Robshaw had it all his own way.
Early on, the England captain turned over the home side for fun on the deck, and as the contest unfolded further, he was pretty damned useful on his feet too. With the scores level at 6-6 – heaven knows how, given the Londoners’ supremacy in virtually every area that mattered – he conjured a couple of high-quality off-loads in the middle of the pitch, the second of which sent Danny Care on a 30-metre run to the line, which the scrum-half completed unchallenged.
Worcester were a man short at that stage, Robshaw’s opposite number Jake Abbott having been given a 10-minute break for offending at a defensive ruck close to his own line and exhausting the patience of Barnes in the process. The flanker was back on the field shortly afterwards, but when the referee reached for his card a second time and flashed it in the direction of Ed Shervington for dragging down a line-out maul, Quins struck again, Joe Marler wrestling his way over from close range.
There was not much glitter about the next two tries either – Rob Buchanan and Mike Brown were the short-range scorers – but Quins, helped by Josh Matavesi’s departure to the bin following a no-arms hit on the ubiquitous Robshaw, were hardly in need of anything special. A high tempo, accurate short passing and a clear sense of direction were all they required to run riot.
Twenty-eight points ahead inside 50 minutes, Quins could be forgiven for dropping off their own standards in the final quarter. They picked up a yellow card of their own – Mark Lambert – and even conceded a penalty try at a retreating scrum late on.
Yet Robshaw, ultra-reliable as he is, remained at the heart of everything. Some would have us believe that Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, has already decided to transfer the red-rose leadership honours to Tom Wood, of Northampton. On this showing, he might be advised to hold his horses.
Worcester: C Pennell; J Drauninui (J Clarke 45), R Fatiaki, J Matavesi, D Lemi; I Mieres, P Hodgson (J Su’a 69); J Becasseau (P Andrew 51), E Shervington, J Andress (E Murray 45), M Williams, D Schofield (C Jones 49), S Betty (N Seymour 38-45), J Abbott (S Taulava 45), J Thomas (capt).
Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, T Casson (B Botica 48), U Monye; N Evans (S Smith 73), D Care (K Dickson 52); J Marler (M Lambert 45), R Buchanan (D Ward 61), W Collier (K Sinckler 63), N Easter, G Robson (G Merrick 48), M Fa’asavalu, C Robshaw (capt), T Guest (L Wallace 63).
Referee: W Barnes (London).