We did it!. We won the Premiership Final!
Quins 30 Leicester 23!
Blimey, it was tense at the end. Full time about to end, but Leicester still in possession, virtually on Quins’ line, put in at the scrum. Play continues until they lose possession. I was starting to think, OK they might score, but hopefully they’ll go blindside and give George Ford a really difficult conversion kick. We might win 30-28. Otherwise, extra time. What will THAT be like?
But Quins held out and eventually some arcane infringement by Leicester in the murk of the scrum, or ruck or something, led to a penalty to Quins. Happily booted out. Game won!
I must watch the highlights to work out exactly what happened. We were too busy celebrating to worry about the technical detail.
This photo is of the moment the game was won.
Of course it was a close game. Leicester are a truly great side. This was their eighth consecutive Premiership final. If any team knows how to win these things it is them. That was a worry: this was Quins’ first final. Another worry: just a few weeks ago, Leicester beat Quins 43-33 at the Stoop, with a crushing second half display.
But this time, in the May sunshine, Quins went at them and kept it going throughout. A real running, offloading game. It was a challenge: let’s see who wilts first. The answer was neither, but the pressure Quins exerted meant that we got more penalties than usual from the whistle of ref Wayne Barnes, who has become a bit of a Quins hate figure. (I’m not quite sure why to be honest, but you know what fans are like about refs). Nev – Nick Evans – duly kicked most of them over. He missed two chances, and both of them hit the post. The first led to Quins regaining possession, playing the phases and going wide brilliantly for winger Tom Williams to score. So it was an excellent tactical miss!
We were so pleased about that one. Tom was the fall guy in the Bloodgate scandal three years ago. He’s remained a solid member of the squad, notwithstanding. In and out, sometimes with the younger speed merchants usurping him. But he’s fought his way back and played superbly this season. Mr Reliable. No surprise that Conor O’Shea, head coach, turned to him once again, when nerve and experience and commitment was going to count. Hard on young Sam Smith, who has been brilliant this season; but he has time on his side. He will be an England player, no doubt. And hopefully a Quins stalwart for the next ten years.
The lead ebbed and flowed. Leicester at one point went 13-11 up in the first half, when a disastrous Quins line out led to an interception and Steve Mafi striding up the pitch unopposed for a Leicester try. Then, just before half time, a Leicester player, Thom Waldrom, was yellow carded. While he was off, Quins scored nine points (including the penalty he had conceded). That took it to 20-13 Quins. Looking good. Then it was looking great as more good pressure led to Captain Marvel, Chris Robshaw, powering through for another try. 30-13 Surely that was it?
But no. It was almost as if, as the game approached the last ten minutes, that Quins thought, this is Leicester, they win games from nowhere. From a Quins scrum the ball somehow fell into the hands of Ben Youngs, Leicester scrum half. He raced through, passed to Anthony Allen who scored. Ford converted and then got another penalty soon after. It was going horribly wrong at the last! 30-23…
But, no, it didn’t go horribly wrong after all. Quins regrouped and held Leicester off this time. The ultimate triumph against the ultimate playoff team.
Time for celebration!
One last thought. After Bloodgate, Conor O’Shea took over as head coach. First season had moments, but despite some bright attacking play the team wasn’t quite there. Last season, things got better, and triumph in the Amlin Cup, which included an amazing away semi final victory against Munster, started to instill real belief in the team. And this season, despite chucking away the Heineken Cup opportunity in the pool stages, having beaten Toulouse away, the team stayed strong, overcame a couple of mid season defeats, held off Leicester and Saracens, and won the League. And then the playoffs. Conor O’Shea deserves massive credit for this. He has encouraged a truly attacking philosophy, which makes Quins great to watch, and has clearly engendered a team spirit that is second to none. The front row, which maybe had been a relative weakness, has been, especially over the latter part of the season, quite awesome. This doesn’t happen out of nowhere. It is hard work and hard coaching as well as natural development by the players. I think it is all helped too by an academy system which is bringing so many home-grown players into the first team squad. They all believe in the Harlequins ethos – playing rugby with style and passion, and true team spirit.
Wow, it makes me proud just writing this!
So good on yer, Connor! (And the rest of the coaching team).
Note: the photos here are all copied from Google Images. They are all Getty Images except for the one with champagne glistening, which is PA.