Happy anniversary Harlequins. A year ago the multicoloured jesters of Middlesex found the joke was on them, with relegation from the Premiership. Yesterday they were officially anointed as National League One champions, handed their trophy and readmitted to club rugby's VIP lounge.
Quins had wrapped up promotion a fortnight ago but chose their return to the Twickenham Stoop to be bemedalled by Bob Rogers, president-in-waiting of the RFU. This was in fact a home fixture for London Welsh, switched in return for a £35,000 cheque plus sundry bar takings and a little neighbourly goodwill. The Welsh choose to operate in a different league - financially speaking - with a ceiling on spending which does not allow thoughts of promotion.
Quins are back where they believe they belong, and hope to recruit accordingly. Six new players will be named this week, to go with the international centres Stuart Abbott and Hal Luscombe.
They include Paul Volley and Nicolas Spanghero from Castres for the forwards, and the exciting England sevens wing David Strettle from Rotherham. A tighthead prop and a scrum-half remain on the shopping list, with the England Under-19 star Danny Care possibly fitting the latter bill. "The season couldn't have gone any better," said Mark Evans, the chief executive. "We hope to be competitive in the Premiership and the mood around the club is as good as it's been for a long while."
Success sweetens the bitterest pill, of course, and Quins' solitary league defeat (at Exeter) in 24 matches represents their first majority of wins over losses since 1998-99. Last week they carried off the Powergen National Trophy, too. Evans predicts the completion of a new South Stand to take capacity above 14,000 the season after next. A whole new Stoop will have sprouted in the span of a decade.
And yet there is a palpable sense of regret among Quins' supporters at leaving behind their season of exploration from Cornwall to the Yorkshire Dales. A different style pervades the game below the crash-bang Premiership.
There was a case study at the end of the opening quarter when Quins were 14-0 to the good with tries by the wings Simon Keogh and Mike Brown, converted by Adrian Jarvis. The Welsh tapped a penalty near the Quins posts and moved the ball through the hands, but Gareth Swales was rudely stopped on the gain line.
Still the Welsh persevered and had a more than decent spell of possession in which they worked a try from a cross-kick for the right wing, Tim Holgate, and another from a five-metre scrum, dotted down out wide by the hooker Chris Ritchie.
Before the interval Quins re-established themselves at 28-12 with tries by Brown and Keogh. They had rested Andrew Mehrtens and the soon-to-retire No 8 Tony Diprose for inclusion in tomorrow's A League final against Leicester. Another England star about to pack away his boots, Will Greenwood, saw no need to sally from the bench during a second half which ran a little thin on the goodwill at first, with the packs seriously getting up each other's noses, and ended with Swales darting through for a try.
The Welsh won four matches out of five recently to ease their concern over relegation, which was then abolished anyway, with the RFU announcing an expansion of National One from 14 to 16 teams.
None of that is of Harlequins' concern now. The coaching triumvirate of Dean Richards, Andy Friend and John Kingston are staying intact. The pre-match strains of "Delilah" were replaced at the final whistle by "You Ain't Seen Nothing Like The Mighty Quinn", and a Guinness-branded banner which proclaimed: "We're Going Up". Quins can count on a place in the lucrative London double-header over the road at Twickenham on the first weekend of next season.
They have adhered to the club motto of Nunquam Dormio (I Never Sleep) and can justifiably add a sub-legend: Roll on September.
London Welsh: G Swales; T Holgate, M Cannon, D Hayward (A Hopkins, 67), J Greenwood; M Meenan (L Cholewa, 78), A Chilten (capt; R Shaw, 75); S Millard, C Ritchie (A Tauialo, 67), J Marsters (S Croall, 67), H Quigley, C Waring, M Fitzgerald, P Cox (R Griffith, 67), S Etheredge (R Woods, 64).
Harlequins: T Williams; S Keogh, G Duffy, M Deane, M Brown (K Richards, 40); A Jarvis, S So'oialo; C Jones, J Richards (A Croall, 62), R Nebbett, P Bouza (G Robson, 40), S Miall, T Guest (D Clayton, 6; L Ward, 49-59), N Easter, A Vos (capt).
Referee: G Copsey (Oxfordshire).Reuse content