Harlequins vs Gloucester: Singing in the Rain
By gregory p
September 12 2017
As I was parking in the west stand car park at Twickenham, and very painless it was too both before and getting away from the game, I heard this news bulletin on Radio 4 which sounded eerily familiar:
Our Far Eastern correspondent has reported signs of serious discontent in the People's Republic of North Quinea, led by the tyrant King il Jon who came to power in mysterious circumstances when he replaced Kon O Zhay. King has endured a difficult summer glossing over the unexplained loss of valued members of his Politburo, Dik Sun, Lo We and Ho Pah. It is believe the state broadcasting system Quin-SSA is firmly under his control and the nominally independent media outlet D'Ok is showing signs of censoring dissidents to the extent that underground sources are now calling it "Doctor No". Further compounding the sense of mystery surrounding this impenetrable republic is the sudden disappearance of two missile systems. The interceptor rocket V1-ss-(ER) has not been seen since last Monday and the rapid all round weapon system, code named SW1(EL), has gone from the radar completely. The desperate King il Jon is reportedly surrounding himself with "yes men" from the Nik family, Ev An Nik and E Stah Nik while Bo Th'ma, who was expected to play a full role in the Poliburo is absent from political life because of unspecified medical reasons. Seasoned Quinea watchers are comparing this to the never explained disappearance of General Cro N Jee and now fear the worst. King il Jon's position seemed untenable [Ed: you mean a few single issue posters started yelling really loudly] last week when his much vaunted Red Army suffered an unexpected defeat in a border dispute at Twik Nam against a fresh battalion of Irish Fusiliers. The diplomatic tension ratcheted further when, in echoes of 1950s Quinean war campaign, the Gloucester regiment crossed the 36th parallel to engage Quinean forces. An anxious world can only hold its breath.
Meanwhile back on planet Earth…………Gloucester may have parked their tanks on our lawn but they didn't do that much with them. Quins were deserved winners against an unconvincing Gloucester side 28-17. The score, and 3-2 try count to Quins, probably flatters Gloucester as Quins seemed to dominate territory and possession for much of the game. I haven't seen any stats but in the first half in particular Gloucester treated the half way line as the De-Militarised Zone and didn't seem keen to cross it. Credit to the Gloucester forwards who rocked and rumbled all afternoon - there were more handbags than Bond Street - but their backs lacked pizzazz the way Theresa May lacked electoral judgment. The honourable exception was Henry Purdy: he may share the same tanning and moisturising regime as Gavin Henson, and the same "boy band" hairdresser as Billy Twelvetrees, but by gum he's swift and did some damage and yardage on the few occasions Glos got the ball in his hands. However, full credit is due to Quins, as it was a convincing, well-executed performance and we played the conditions well. The win felt more comfortable than the score suggests. Marcus Smith - on for a seriously crook looking Catrakilis - took a big knock to his nose, and his radar went skewiff, so we left six easy points out there too.
Enough generalisations, what actually happened? The early exchanges set the tone after Quins kicked off towards the north stand. Care, Brown and Catrakilis all took turns to put the ball behind Glos forcing them to play from deep or clear and hand possession back to Quins. We didn't help ourselves by getting the first two line outs wrong but Joe Gray soon found his range, unlike Richard Hibbard, an early contender for naff barnet of the season, particularly now that Charlie Walker has seen sense. Hibbard's throwing was as out of whack as the idea that Jacob Rees Mogg could lead a major political party [Ed: so UKIP have still got a vacancy then?]and it kept Glos short of first phase ball. After quite a bit of side to side, Catrikilis opened the scoring with a penalty on 11 minutes. The lead was short lived after Burns levelled it on 12 minutes - Glos got fairly route one and spent some time in the Quins half and had an injured Catrikilis and a simple penalty for their efforts.
Quins then began to dominate despite a bloody nose for Smith, and he, Brown and Walker combined well to take play into the Glos 22. An offside at a ruck gave Smith an unchallenging shot at goal in the Glos 22 but much the audible glee of an away-day Shed in the north stand, he pushed it wide. Amid a sudden darkening and heavy rain the game took a dramatic turn. Mike Brown fielded a high kick - he was solid all afternoon and really put last week's misfire behind him - and burst through the initial cover. Charlie "Murray" Walker had fitted his wet weather tyres and sped onto Brown's great offload. He carved a great curving run through the Gloucester cover - it was reminiscent of John Bentley in South Africa for the Lions in 1997 - but was felled by some gutsy cover close to the Glos try line. Crikey, Charlie can pick a line like Jordan Spieth on an Augusta green. While it didn't lead to a score, Quins remained camped in Cherry and White territory helped by one line out throw that nearly went straight to Heinz at scrum half. Glos demolished one of our scrums and then mysteriously got pinged for collapsing one in between a series of post scrum scraggings. Round up the usual suspects please: Marler and Sinckler, the photo-fit brothers.
At this point my notes get very unclear as my notepad became seriously wet and I couldn't write down anything - the rain suddenly turned into a monsoon and I thought we may witness a rugby match stopped for bad light. No one in mission control could find 50p for the leccie meter for the lights to go on, so we witnessed some Braille rugby. Despite the conditions the forwards suddenly found great supporting lines to run at pace off the back of the break downs -Horwill, Ward and Sinckler all showing great skill with Marchant doing his Ali shuffle in amongst it all. It was as if the forwards had suddenly remembered what they'd been doing on the training ground all week. It culminated in Horwill bursting off the back of a ruck and popping inside to Ward who sprinted under the posts. Smith topped it up and 10-3 it was with nearly half an hour gone.
Another not straight from Hibbard saw Quins straight back down the business end with Care and Brown rolling the ball behind Glos and turning them. To add to the astonishing rain we were treated to thunder and lightning - the only thing missing was "The Ride of the Valkyries" blasting from the PA. If Wagner did Rugby? Given the conditions the handling on view was staggeringly good: from some distance out Smith did his already trademarked break, onto Care it went, cue the afterburners, Yarde took it on at pace and as he was felled he popped it up for Brown and then on to the supporting Murray Walker who deservedly scorched in for a score under the posts. Smith could make no mistake - even in the white out - and at 39 minutes we had a deserved 17-3 lead.
Despite the rain half time had two bonus features: the queue for the gents was mercifully short, as no one wanted to get drenched, and someone found some loose change down the back of David Ellis' sofa and we got the floodlights on.
While the thunder and lightning faded away Glos came back into the game with a bit more intent. An awful kick - and probably the only one from Danny Care as he kicked really well otherwise ¬ was run back at us by Henry Purdy, showing that Charlie Walker wasn't the only who could set fast lap times in the wet. He carved a big hole in our cover with Danny attoning for that kick by getting a hand to what looked like a try scoring pass and knocking it backwards. As Thrush [Ed: don't you dare make a medically based joke], a Gloucester forward, went to chase the ball, now rolling into Quins in goal area, Jamie Roberts either slipped or simply lumped into him. Luke Pearce went upstairs for the re-run and gave a penalty to Glos right under the posts. It could have been worse - a card for Roberts - and it could have been better, just a 22 restart. Glos chose to scrum it but it didn't pay dividends as good defence kept the red tide at bay.
Roberts gave another penalty away, on the wrong side of a ruck, which Glos this time put in the corner. There followed a series of Glos attacks that only committed defence and borderline skullduggery kept out. With half the pack drinking in the yellow card last chance saloon Quins held up what looked like a ten man Glos line out, having put on a great counter drinve. It felt like a pivotal moment, even if only 47 minutes had been played, as Smith cleared from the ensuing early engage free kick.
Glos remained up for the fight though with Afoa and Slater refreshing the heavy cavalry. Billy Burns put a penalty deep into Quins 22 and this time the engine fired as Hibbard found his man and the maul rolled towards the red zone. The ensuing short range drives proved too much as in the end Fred Clark rumbled through. Quins seemed to half stop as there could have been a knock on, or maybe some blocking, amid the heavy traffic but Mr Pearce showed all the inclination of Mary Whitehouse to go upstairs and look at a dodgy video. Burns knocked over the two points and at 54 minutes it was 17-10 and not so clear cut for Quins. It was Glos best bit of sustained pressure by some way.
Quins reply was swift as Collier and Luamanu replaced Sinckler and Ward. Good pressure following a Smith chip athletically gathered by Marchant led to pressure on Glos and hands in the ruck from Heinz. While he whinged at the ref, there was no point in getting Crosse & Blackwell about it, and Smith crisply struck the penalty to make it 20-10. [Ed: other blatant product placement is available in return for a wad of used notes].
Quins didn't hang about in getting back into Glos territory and after Yarde was hit in the air he barrelled out of quite a few tackles, with Brown, Roberts and Marchant gaining ground. It looked like Marchant had been hustled into touch but Luamanu appeared to bulldoze his way over the line. The TMO didn't like the look of a forward pass in the build up so we came back from the hit on Yarde. From an infringement following the subsequent driven maul Yarde - busy and abrasive all afternoon ¬was taken out high. A not difficult penalty was missed by Smith. He attoned five minutes later when he popped over one, following a Collier induced collapse, from straight on to make it 23-10 at 65 minutes in. It felt like we were closing the door.
We slammed it shut not many minutes later when following yet more pressure we hit a penalty into Glos 22. The line out jumper was hit in the air and Danny, knowing the penalty advantage was in the bin, put up a high cross kick. Yarde read it well, knocking it down to Brown. He sprinted round the cover and when nailed offloaded to Yarde in support. Yarde, with plenty of interest from the cover, bristled his way over. He had plenty to do and it was an "AreyouwatchingEddie" kind of score. It was on your feet thinking and good finishing from Quins. Smith couldn't nail the extras from wide-ish out so 28-10 it was at nearly 70 minutes gone.
Barring a complete melt down, and that expression does sometimes occur in the same sentence as Quins, we were not going to give up that lead, nor even allow Glos to get within 7 points. Glos gave it a lash though despite playing serious catch up from deep in their half. Even someone as classy as Twelvetrees found himself going backwards more often than not. That said Quins - largely because Elia Elia stuffed up two line outs in a row and then pulled down a maul - gave Glos some good field position and a chance for Purdy and Sharples (gunsmiths to poachers all over the West Country) to stretch our tiring cover. As the clock edged red we ballsed up another line out and Jacob Rowan still had the energy to hunt down the loose ball for an almost invisible score. Many in the crowd didn't even get a clear view of it and Luke Pearce's signal originally looked like a penalty to Quins. It was possibly the least celebrated try I've seen at the Stoop. As Twelvetrees added the conversion the clock stopped and it finished at 28-17.
That was a much better day at the office, and yes it needed to be, but that was a smart win in some rough old conditions. So: played two, one won and lost one. On that basis King il Jon can join Rob Baxter, Mark McCall, Jim Mallinder, Johan Ackermann and Nick Kennedy down the job centre then?
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Rodders you p-lonker!
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