Horsman's show of strength must earn England call

Harlequins 9 Worcester 15
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The Independent Online

There are several hundred tons of rubble piled around The Stoop Memorial Ground at present, only some of it to do with work being carried out on the £8m stand Harlequins are constructing on the western flank of the stadium. The rest of it consists of the remains of the Londoners' pack, demolished so comprehensively by Worcester at the weekend that the Premiership upstarts might have taken the field with a front row of Barrett, Wimpey and McAlpine rather than Windo, Van Niekerk and Horsman. Quins may not be dead and buried as a top-flight concern just yet, but their scrum is very definitely six feet under.

There are several hundred tons of rubble piled around The Stoop Memorial Ground at present, only some of it to do with work being carried out on the £8m stand Harlequins are constructing on the western flank of the stadium. The rest of it consists of the remains of the Londoners' pack, demolished so comprehensively by Worcester at the weekend that the Premiership upstarts might have taken the field with a front row of Barrett, Wimpey and McAlpine rather than Windo, Van Niekerk and Horsman. Quins may not be dead and buried as a top-flight concern just yet, but their scrum is very definitely six feet under.

The Worcester set-piece specialists were unbelievably good on Saturday; so good, indeed, that there cannot have been a more ferocious flexing of collective muscle since Attila reached the banks of the Tiber. Assuming the Quins forwards ever manage to extract their heads from their own rear ends in order to watch the match video, they will wonder how they finished the day only six points adrift, as opposed to 60. Poor Tony Diprose, charged with the unforgiving job of playing No 8 behind a pack in ignominious retreat, was still walking backwards an hour after the final whistle, and was in serious danger of finding himself in Richmond High Street rather than the players' bar.

There was nothing pretty about Worcester's approach to the game, and nothing remotely complicated either. A mere three points to the bad at the interval having spent 40 minutes playing into the teeth of a 20-point wind, they did not need Field Marshal Montgomery to frame their strategy for them. Donald Rumsfeld could have worked it out, given a day or so. They emerged with a five-point plan of glorious simplicity: win the ball, kick it down-field, win it again, stick it up the jumper, kick the penalties. Sure enough, James Brown landed a quartet of goals between the 52nd and 72nd minutes to secure a victory that should go an awfully long way towards ensuring Premiership rugby at Sixways next term.

"I wouldn't describe what we did as boring, because that would detract from a wonderful scrummaging performance," said Andy Keast, the Worcester coach, as he reflected on this defeat of his old club. "But I'm happy to accept that we were one-dimensional. You play the game your players can handle, and you win the best way you can. If we spend the rest of the season throwing the ball around, we'll find ourselves back in National Division One come September. As it is, we have a decent chance of staying up. We're not safe yet, but we're getting there."

His opposite number, Mark Evans, did not even begin to suggest that his side might have been hard done by, or utter so much as a syllable by way of excusing his side's performance.

"We've scrummed well all year, but they beat us all ends up at the set-piece," he admitted. "Before the game, I rated their scrummage as one of the two best in the country, along with Leicester's. I might have to revise my opinion and make them the best, bar none. Their dominance allowed them to control the clock, as well as field position. There was no pace in the game - they didn't want any, we couldn't get any - and every coach in the Premiership knows that they're not the team to play in a low-tempo match."

So who are they, these mechanical diggers in size 12 boots? Tony Windo, a fairly ancient loose-head prop from Gloucester, has been around since the year dot and knows all there is to know about the fine art of rubbing an opponent's face in the dirt. Andre van Niekerk, a South African hooker so ridiculously large that you could conceal a small game park between his shoulder blades, is not the quickest front-rower on God's earth, but when he eventually gets to wherever he's going, he makes his presence felt with a vengeance. And then there is Chris Horsman, once of Bath and soon to be of England. Or maybe Wales. One way or another, he will surely play international rugby before the start of next season.

Horsman lives in Porthcawl - following a successful fight against testicular cancer, he left English rugby for a spell at Bridgend - and is of great interest to the Red Dragon selectors, who know he is within a few weeks of qualifying for Wales on residential grounds. But now that both Julian White and Phil Vickery, the senior tight-head props in the England squad, are hors de combat, no one would die of shock if he was summoned to Twickenham without further ado. In fact, the red rose management would be criminally stupid not to phone him immediately, if not sooner.

"We've made the appropriate calls to the England coaches in respect of Chris, because he's playing as well, if not better, than any tight-head prop in the Premiership," said Keast. "It's up to them now. As I understand it, he qualifies for Wales in May, and they've already indicated that they'd like to take him on tour in the summer. I can't tell you what he's thinking, but if England don't offer him something pretty damn quick, I imagine he'll go with Wales. Why not? All players want to perform at the highest level available to them."

During the 86 minutes he spent on the field on Saturday, Horsman made one error - a truly horrible pass to Daren O'Leary that missed its intended target by yards rather than inches. But props were not put on this planet to pass anything other than the occasional gust of sulphurous wind in the general direction of the opposition. When it comes to fit tight-head scrummagers, as opposed to incapacitated ones, Horsman is right up there with the similarly uncapped Duncan Bell of Bath. If England ignore him now, the Welsh Rugby Union will throw a street party. For that reason alone, the shop-soiled world champions should stick 10p in the slot and give him a call.

Harlequins: Penalties Staunton 3. Worcester: Penalties Brown 5.

Harlequins: T Williams; S Keogh, G Duffy, G Harder, U Monye; J Staunton, S So'oialo; M Worsley, T Fuga (J Hayter, 69), C Jones (J Dawson, 40), J Evans (R Winters, 72), S Maling (S Miall, 66), N Easter, A Diprose, A Vos (capt).

Worcester: T Delport; D O'Leary (T Hayes, 58), D Rasmussen, T Lombard, B Hinshelwood; J Brown, M Powell (N Cole, 76); A Windo, A van Niekerk, C Horsman, T Collier (P Murphy, 74), C Gillies, D Hickey, B MacLeod-Henderson, P Sanderson (capt).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).

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