2 November 2013 was a good day for Harlequins.
First, Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown starred for England in their 20-13 victory over Australia.
And then Quins went away to Leicester, and won 23-16.
(Meanwhile West Ham had another 0-0 in the footie, this time with Aston Villa. Keeping my powder dry on that for now).
England’s win over the Aussies was deserved, but a bit scratchy. The first half saw both teams playing equally badly, but the Aussies engineered a try towards the end of the half, when centre Matt Toomua burst through a feeble tackle by his opposite number Billy Twelvetrees, to take a 13-6 lead. The most worrying thing for England was the usually metronomic Owen Farrell missing three relatively straightforward penalties. The best thing was Quins’ Mike Brown at full back, playing superbly on the kick and run, catching with aplomb, gaining the yards with every break. Just like he does at Quins.
It got better in the second half. England started to put on the pressure. Twickenham debutant Marlon Yarde got the crowd going with a brilliant power run down the wing. Then Mike Brown fielded an Aussie kick with real skill, sold a couple of dummies and booted upfield. From that a mellee ensued in which a Will Genia clearance was charged down and Chris Robshaw pounced for his first England try. The momentum shifted from that point. Owen Farrell scored another try with a clever surge, which may have benefited from a bit of obstruction by hooker Dylan Hartley. Maybe. The ref, aided by the TMO, didn’t penalise it.
Australians will undoubtedly claim that both of England’s tries shouldn’t have been awarded (In the first, Mike Brown’s feet were arguably over the touchline when he fielded the Aussie kick). And well, yeah, they might have a point, but England were the better team overall, and, as ever, with any game, because the forwards were better. And Robbo, rightly still captain, was a magnificent example to the others. Mike Brown got man of the match, but Chris wasn’t far off.
Two Quins players that fans from other sides might not have in the team – we are all biased! But hard to deny today that they were two of the best. Joe Marler did well when he came on too.
And so to Leicester, Welford Road. The fortress of the best team in the Premiership, over the years. As it happens, Quins won there last year, but it’s a rare event. Both teams had lost a lot of players to injury and international call ups. So a few youngsters playing, but good ones. The conditions were foul – strong winds and heavy rain at times. Quins were magnificent. In the first half they dominated possession and territory, but only at the end did they get a forwards’ pushover try, from Nick Easter, to go 10-6 ahead. In the second half, with the wind behind them, they let loose for a while, and Matt Hopper scored with a searing cut-in from the left wing. A couple of penalties (with one for Leicester) took the score to 23-9. At Welford Road!
Then, of course, the traditional Leicester comeback began. The last fifteen minutes were an assault on the Quins’ line. But they held out, right until the end, when Leicester got a penalty try for persistent scrum infringments by Quins. That got the Tigers a losing bonus point, but Quins emerged victorious. Some of the tackling was beyond belief. Ugo Monye was awesome – one time stopping what looked like a certain try when the Leicester player was already over the line, with an unbelievable show of balance and strength, forcing the man back behind the line. Nick Evans, not the biggest of players, threw himself into a try-saving tackle out on the wing, Danny Care following up to be certain.
15 man defiance. One that might just turn the season around, after the dodgy start.
Man of the match award went to Tim Molenaar, a centre who only joined Quins, from Gloucester, on Monday. So many long term injuries forced the club’s hand. Molenaar is experienced and tough. It showed.
This weekend felt like the spirit of 2011-12 had returned. The feeling that Quins can beat anyone – whether they are playing for club or country.