By Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World Magazine
Anyone who doesn’t consider the Harlequins as genuine title contenders wasn’t at The Stoop for their London derby with Wasps.
Famed over the years for their inconsistency they were once famously tagged the ’20-minuters’ for obvious reasons.
But under Conor O’Shea they are building what could be a frightening dynasty in south-west London. They are young, English and full of ability.
The most pleasing thing for me is that they are building this momentum with a side dominated by English players.
Many teams – Worcester and Saracens in particular – haven’t grasped the fact that the successful sides in English rugby (Wasps and Leicester) over the last decade have built their success on a hard core of English players.
Getting out the chequebook and buying stop-gap journeymen is never the answer.
I’m not against one or two big-name foreigners (Nick Evans is a great example) at every club but when it gets up to six or eight in a matchday 23 it doesn’t lead to trophies – history will tell you that if you don’t believe me.
This is the blueprint for success and it is one that Harlequins are following. For this win over Wasps 21 of the 23-man squad were qualified for England and the team spirit is obvious at The Stoop.
Against Wasps they sprinted into a 17-7 half-time lead but ran out of steam in the second period as Wasps roared back into the match, on the back of an inspirational effort from their front five.
But Wasps were unable to breach an impressive Quins defence in the second half. The hard-working Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter were at the centre of the Quins defensive effort, that secured the four points and took them into the top four for the first time this season.
In that first half the man who made the difference to the performance was referee Wayne Barnes, who did everything humanly possible to keep the game flowing. The tape of the game should be sent to every referee in Europe, because so many game are being spoiled, this season, by their officiating. At one point Robshaw was heard to complaint about Serge Betsen “lying on the ball all the time” to which Barnes replied: “so are you!” Fair play to him.
Quins are now heading for the Amlin and LV quarter-finals and are now in the play-offs. Who says they can’t keep challenging for the Treble? Don’t forget they knocked Northampton off the top of the table a week ago. They played at breathless pace in the first half, on a heavy pitch, and were probably always going to run out of steam. But crucially when the energy levels dropped they raised the intensity of their defensive performance to clinch the victory, their fifth successive in all competitions.
Joe Marler – Not ready for the England squad yet this young prop is bristling with attitude and ability. He’ll miss the trip to Abu Dhabi because he’ll be propping for the England Saxons against Italy at Worcester. A real talent for the future – he could be the heir apparent to Andy Sheridan, especially if he decides to head to France after the World Cup.
Nick Easter – my man of the match: Battered after the Autumn he is running into superb form. He was the key reason Quins won this game because his composure and experience in the second half steadied the nerves when Wasps put them under pressure.
Tom Lindsay: Had a nightmare with his throwing at Wembley but this guy is a quality player and in the loose proved he could be an international in the making. Has clearly worked hard on his throwing-in since that trip to the home of English rugby and was exceptional here against Quins. Surely an England player in the making.
Andy Powell: The Welshman is in great form, behind a good Wasps front five and if Warren Gatland was watching he’ll walk back into the Wales team.
But what did you think? Were you at the match or did you watch it on TV? Who was your man of the match.
Harlequins: Brown; Williams (Casson, 67), Lowe, Turner-Hall, Monye; Evans, Care; Marler, Gray (Brooker, 38), Lambert, Kohn (Vallejos, 61), Robson, Guest (Skinner, 55), Robshaw, Easter.
Wasps: van Gisbergen; Haughton (Lemi, 57), Jacobs, Kefu (Jones, 61), Varndell; Flutey, Berry ( Simpson, 13-23 & 49); Payne (Beech, 49), Lindsay, Taulafo (Broster, 49), Veale, Cannon, Birkett, Betsen Tchoua, Powell.
Harlequins (17) 17
Tries: Marler, Brown, EasterCon: Evans
Wasps (7) 10
Tries: Haughton Con:van Gisbergen Pen: Walder
To read Rugby World’s verdict from Leicester 27 Northampton 16 click here