Second-class side stamped

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The Independent Online
Harlequins 75 Gloucester 19

Flawed logic was what floored Gloucester and earned them an unenviable place in a proud club's history. It was help yourself Harlequins thanks to the Gloucester director of coaching Richard Hill's strategy of selecting a second-string side from his first-team squad for matches which the former Bath and England scrum-half deems would have been lost anyway.

His captain Dave Sims insisted Hill has the support of the whole of his squad for a policy which will see the best turning out for the ten or so matches that they have targeted as must-wins with the rest taking the flak in the remaining fixtures.

Moreover, he promises there will definitely be long-term profit from the plan. In the short term it can only be of benefit to the top sides.

A margin of 56 points could be as crucial for Harlequins as it could be for Gloucester if points difference comes into play to decide relegation issues; Gloucester may well regret even this one match.

The Welsh Harlequins lock Gareth Llewellyn appreciated what Hill was trying to do but said: "I was surprised at the thinking. In the first game of the season it would have been useful for Gloucester to see how good their first team was. Even if they had got beaten, it would still have been a competitive environment and they could have seen where their weaknesses lay. I don't see what Richard Hill could have gained from today, or what he could have learned."

If the results against top sides continue along similar lines there is every chance that Twickenham may step in and follow the Football Association and bar clubs from putting out teams that are not first choice.

And it will be a wonder if the members of a team that is on the wrong end of a hiding every time they step out on to the pitch does not suffer some psychological hang-up long before the season is over.

Harlequins, on the other hand, look as if they will have few problems this season. The injection of so many members of the European Union, plus an upbeat mood not sensed at The Stoop for some while, has brought out the best in the existing squad members.

Laurent Cabannes was a revelation in the back row. Will Carling could not praise him enough. "He sells dummies, reverse passes, he's like a centre - a bloody good centre at that."

His French international colleague Laurent Benezech made his presence felt in the front row alongside their livewire signing from Ireland Keith Wood at hooker.

"Another centre," quipped the good-humoured Carling, remarking on Wood's presence in broken play.

The Harlequins backs again proved to be lethal. Daren O'Leary's four tries were products of fine teamwork, good possession, slick handling and devastating finishing.

Then of course the kicking. Carling's desire to switch in late career from centre to fly-half has seen him spend the last three months practising his goal-kicks and restarts and he was rewarded on a still summer's day with 20 points from 7 out of 11 conversion attempts and two penalties.

With O'Leary at the head of the procession the tries came thick and fast. There was one each for the Gallic stars and Alex Snow gave the forwards good representation on the scoresheet along with Jim Staples, Spencer Bromley and Peter Mensah.

Harlequins already look the part and they are yet to be joined by the rugby league converts Gary Connolly and Robbie Paul - an awesome prospect for their rivals to contemplate.

Harlequins: Tries Pen try, Mensah, O'Leary 4, Snow, Staples, Benezech, Bromley, Cabannes; Conversions Carling 7; Penalties Carling 2. Gloucester: Tries Osborne, Lloyd, Mulraine; Conversions Osborne 2.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Carling, P Mensah, S Bromley; P Challinor, R Kitchin; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, A Snow, G Llewellyn, B Davison, L Cabannes, G Allison. Replacements: S Pilgrim for O'Leary 78, I Pickup for Davison 68.

Gloucester: P Hart; M Lloyd, D Caskie, L Osborne, D Timmington; M Kimber, C Mulraine; A Powles, J Hawker, P Vickery, R Ward, D Sims (capt), R York, I Smith, S Devereux (S Edwards 45-54). Replacements: S Edwards for Devereux 45-54.

Referee: J Pearson (Durham)

A try right under the posts in injury time by Andy Gomarsall and a simple conversion by Gareth Rees gave Wasps a last-gasp 33-31 victory over Sale.

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