Harlequins 52 Coventry 12: Richards rekindles the old-fashioned fires

Traditional virtues at heart of Harlequins' revival
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The Independent Online

This time last year Harlequins were up to their necks in quicksand and when the end came, against Sale in the last match of the season, they slipped quietly from the Premiership and there was barely a dry eye in the house.

Most of the big hitters in the top flight are of the view that relegation equals oblivion but first Bristol and now Quins are proving that it ain't necessarily so.

Quins are destined to bounce straight back up and yesterday they scored eight tries against a useful Coventry side - the last their 100th in National League One.

In the process they established a club record for the longest undefeated sequence. The previous best dated back to 1874 which coincidentally was the year a Coventry XV, who included members of a cricket club, played the first organised game of rugby in Lady Godiva's city.

With 'one up, one down', the focus nowadays is not so much on National League One as the nether regions of the Premiership where the dogfight will intensify over the next month or so.

Quins, of course, are in a privileged position and although nobody was remotely interested in throwing them a lifeline last year they will be welcomed back with open arms as the only club in London who are situated near the capital and, what is more, play on a Saturday.

In a sense they have a captive audience and they are fortunate that neither their supporters nor their sponsors deserted them. Yesterday about the only part of the Stoop that was deserted was the virgin press box in the swanky new £8-million Lexus stand. This is typical of Quins.

Not for them the Reliant Robin stand. It was partly funded by Lottery money and the sale of adjoining land to the house builders Laing, who have put up Harlequin Court. Adrian Stoop wouldn't recognise the place.

The club were also blessed that Dean Richards, the former toast of England and Leicester and now an upper crust in west London, and Andrew Mehrtens, the former All Black, honoured their commitments to work at the Stoop come what may. When they agreed to join, Quins were still in the Premiership.

Deano has been playing it softly, softly, observing affairs not from the middle of the training ground but from the sidelines. He has asserted his authority when necessary, for example reminding Will Greenwood, a World Cup winner, that life in National League One was not beneath him.

The head coach has also insisted on a nostalgic return to the old amateur days - after every game Quins have to retire to the bar and drink with their opponents.

None of that nonsense, so prevalent in the Premiership, of disappearing on to a luxury coach virtually the minute the match ends. Heavens, they have even engaged in the "boat race", an old fashioned drinking game much beloved from the shires to the valleys.

Whether they will be so hospitable next season remains to be seen. As it is, Quins will not pop open the bubbly until promotion has been signed and sealed. Nevertheless, it's farewell to the likes of Sedgley Park - they are bottom of the table but held Quins to 29-22 in November - and a return to grounds like Welford Road for Richards and Co. He has been busy recruiting for the big push although last week they lost Chris Whitaker, the Australian scrum-half, to Leinster.

Naturally, everybody wants to shaft Quins from here to kingdom come and Coventry were no exception but you have got to catch them first. From the kick-off Coventry knew what they were up against when Ugo Monye, a frequent flyer with the England sevens squad, flashed down the right wing for a try with just 13 seconds on the clock. Another record.

They had to wait another 16 minutes for try number two - the pick of the bunch. David Millard, the Coventry wing, was chasing his chip ahead and looking good when Steve So'oialo thwarted him at the Quins posts and launched a counter-attack that ended with Monye scoring 90 yards down the other end.

To show that it wasn't all Monye, Monye, Monye, the Quins forwards got in on the act with the prop Ceri Jones scoring two from a pushover and then a driving maul and the No 8 Nick Easter also got a brace. Mehrtens, returning from his honeymoon in New Zealand, was brought off the bench with eight minutes remaining and had time to kick a couple of conversions to take his points total for the season to 170.

Coventry, who have ambitions of their own, scored two excellent tries through Apoua Stewart and James Moore but Quins were in a different league. Or they soon will be.

Harlequins: T Williams; S Keogh, W Greenwood (T Masson, 40), G Duffy, U Monye (G Harder, 63); A Jarvis, S So'oialo; C Jones, J Richards (T Fuga, 61), R Nebbett (L Ward, 61), J Evans (G Robson, 67), S Miall, T Guest, N Easter, A Vos (capt; L Sheriff, 61).

Coventry: A Stewart; D Millard (K Johnson, 66), K Geraghty, D Tiueti (D Harvey, 56), J Moore; J Higgins, M Walls (R Chrystie, 66); K Pulu (M Pale, 19), R Protherough (R Brits, 52), P Bucknall (N Treston, 61), D Campton, P Clapham, H Venter (B McNamee, 59), H Reeders(capt), T Johnson.

Referee: T Wigglesworth (Hull).

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