Tonight I was at at the Stoop to see Quins beating Gloucester 28-25, the second week in a row that they’ve won by the nervous margin of three points. But wins are wins and they stay top of the Premier League as a result.
Last week was a bit lucky. They were away to London Irish, in Reading (which may sound like a contradiction in terms, but right now Quins are the only London side who actually play somewhere that is recognisably London). It was a scrappy sort of game and the teams were evenly matched.
Quins fell behind in the battle of the penalties and it looked like a loss was on the cards until a five minute phase of possession right at the end led to a try in the last moment of the game. To the naked eye it looked like the try scorer, Tom Casson had knocked the ball on. Even Tom Casson thought he had, judging by the look on his face. But the ref called for a TV replay and that showed the ball had gone backwards when Casson dropped it (which is OK) and then he and the ball had both slid over the line when he touched it down with his chest. So, rather unorthodox, but all legitimate. A try was awarded and Quins sneaked the win. I can understand Irish fans being aggrieved though. Luck tends to favour the successful.
This weekend was different. Gloucester have been playing well this season and whoever won this game would go top, at least for the evening. It was the first of a series of games where teams lose players to international call ups. Quins, now that they are one of the best teams – hell, no, the best! – have lost six players to the England squad, something that Leicester, in particular, have grown used to over the years. Two – Mike Brown and George Robson – were allowed back for this game, but we were missing Robshaw, Monye, Care and Marler. Gloucester had Charlie Sharples missing, while Ben Morgan, their No8, had been allowed back for the game.
But, for Quins, fly half Nick Evans was back from injury, as was hooker Joe Gray, so things didn’t look too bad. There is real depth in the Quins squad these days. With Chris Robshaw away, there was a first chance this season for flanker Luke Wallace, who had looked like a real star for the future last season.
It was a funny sort of game. It was all a bit frantic. Both sides showing attacking intent, but there were lots of dropped balls and misplaced passes, and a super-fussy referee: step forward Mr Wayne Barnes. Quins looked stronger and scored three tries in the first half – all quite opportunistic – against none for Gloucester. But they kept on giving away penalties and Freddie Burns – one of England’s most promising fly halves, didn’t miss a thing. So it was 22-12 at half time, when maybe Quins should have been out of sight. The second half was bitty, but Quins had so much possession that this should have been a big win. But it felt like the wrong decisions were taken too often. Lots of quick breaks or choosing scrums when penalties were awarded, rather than playing for more control with kicks to touch for the line outs, or taking the three points on offer. Easy for me to say so sitting in the stands of course, but you did wonder whether Chris Robshaw’s calming influence as captain was missed. Even though the mighty Nick Easter, with a wealth of experience, was standing in.
So, while they really never looked like losing, Quins did manage to let Gloucester back in at the end and only win by three points. Which meant that “Glaws” got a bonus point that they didn’t really deserve.
But, hey, as they always say in football, the mark of a good team is when they keep winning when they aren’t playing that well. The last two weeks have shown Quins in that light. And there were some superb individual performances. For me, the centre, Matt Hopper, was the best of the bunch. Amazing speed and daring, and some excellent tackles too. And a great try. Not long before he gets an England call too, I suspect.
So it all feels good. The team are building on the success of last season. And still trying to play the kind of running rugby that makes the game so exciting.
Come on you Quins! …. #COYQ