Traffic jams outside The Stoop, a full house in shirtsleeves, more points scored than the Hutton Inquiry and a sting in the tail. Welcome to the new sexed-up Zurich Premiership.
Giving the Sale-Northampton extravaganza which ended 37-37 on Friday evening a run for its money, Harlequins, the perennial profligates from west London, somehow defeated Wasps, the champions. Quins launched about three attacks and scored three tries before running out winners by three goals, three penalties and a drop goal to a goal, a try and five penalties. Pass the smelling salts.
In the end the money was on a young wing called Ugo Monye who scored two of the Quins' tries, the second of which, arriving in the 70th minute, dismasted the Wasps antennae. It was a cracker.
As they had done for much of the match, Quins soaked up pressure close to their line and then hit their opponents with a devastating counterattack. Paul Burke chipped perfectly ahead to regain possession and his pass was beautifully delivered to Andy Reay. The centre similarly supplied an excellent service (even if there was more than a hint of a forward pass) to the flying Monye. The right wing, who is seriously quick and a member of England's sevens squad, was uncatchable. Burke's conversion gave Quins a 33-24 lead, and eyes were being rubbed all over the ground.
It took Wasps four months last year to wake up and smell the roses. On yesterday's early evidence the champions, who stole up on Gloucester last season like a master pickpocket, looked to have emerged as genuine front-runners. The fhalf-time scoreline of 16-19 defied belief.
Wasps were all over their hosts like the most unwelcome gatecrashers, and the fact that they led by only three points is one of the mysteries of the season, even if it has only just started. Wasps, although they were without such World Cup luminaries as Lawrence Dallaglio and Josh Lewsey, looked in a different class, and one move in particular seemed to sum up the difference between the sides.
A poor clearance by Ben Willis, one of a handful of Quins recruits from Ireland, led to a line-out deep in their own half. Simon Shaw, the lock who was extremely unfortunate not to make England's World Cup squad, took the catch and released Phil Greening. He fed Rob Howley, who flicked a return pass to the hooker, who crashed over, taking Willis with him. A certain try? The referee wasn't sure, called for the assistance of the video official and the score was disallowed.
It was one of many turning points. At that stage Wasps led by 10 points and with the Quins hooker, Ace Tiatia, in the sin-bin, they looked as if they could win any way they wanted. When Mark Van Gisbergen added another penalty to make it 19-6 to Wasps, it was the signal for a Quins response that had to be seen to be believed - and I still don't believe it.
Burke kicked a penalty, and in first-half injury time Simon Keogh produced an excellent run down the left flank, from which Burke's cross-kick put John Rudd under pressure and the ball rebounded to Monye, who went over in the right corner. Wasps, utterly bemused at seeing their lead cut to three points, were soon in for another surprise.
They opened the second half by laying siege to the Quins line, but the home side heroically held out before responding with a sucker punch which resulted in a try for the full-back Andy Dunne, another of their Irish recruits. It followed good work by Tony Diprose and the impressive Reay, and it meant that Quins had scored 17 points in 12 minutes.
Trailing 23-19, Wasps almost immediately regained the lead when a kick from Fraser Waters, arguably the best three-quarter on the pitch, resulted in a try for Shane Roiser. They knew, of course, that this wasn't going to be their day when Monye scored his spellbinding try, and Wasps' only consolation came with a penalty from Van Gisbergen in the dying seconds which gave Wasps a bonus point by virtue of losing by not more than seven points.
Van Gisbergen had given his side the perfect start, a well-placed kick ahead throwing the Quins defence into panic. An unkind bounce defeated both Dunne and Keogh, allowing Roiser to lay on a try for Tom Voyce, Quins' signing from Bath. When Van Gisbergen, entrusted with the goal-kicking in the absence of the injured Alex King, stroked over a series of penalties only one outcome seemed possible, even after a break by Voyce resulted in Waters crossing the line only to see the try disallowed for a forward pass. For the new campaign read Silly Season.
Tries: Monye 2, Dunne
Cons: Burke 3
Pens: Burke 3
Tries: Voyce, Roiser
Con: Van Gisbergen
Pens: Van Gisbergen 5
Half-time: 16-19 Attendance: 7,223
Harlequins: A Dunne (M Moore, 77); S Keogh, G Harder, A Reay, U Monye; P Burke, B Willis; M Worsley (C Jones, 60), A Tiatia, J Dawson (L Gomez, 84), B Davison (J Evans, 60), S Miall (L Sherriff, 84), P Sanderson, T Diprose, A Vos (capt).
Wasps: T Voyce; S Roiser, F Waters, M Denney, J Rudd (A Erinle, 79); M Van Gisbergen, R Howley (capt, P Richards, 84); C Dowd, P Greening (T Leota, 70), W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Haskell (M Lock, 65), I Clarke, P Volley.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).Reuse content