My second Heineken Cup game of the weekend took me to a very wet and windy Twickenham; thanks to the unlucky work pattern of mad Quins fan (not mad as such, just mad about her team) Sue. It was rude not to start the day with Henry, Sue’s husband, at the lovely Patisserie Valerie in the High Street and to welcome the French to town manage to drop Pain du Chocolat all over me! If anyone knows how to eat French pastries without that happening do please share! After a very convivial and leisurely breakfast we strolled to the Stoop.
Harlequins at home were looking to ‘do the double’ over their French counterparts having beaten them away with the result at Racing Metro 8 Harlequins 32! This was one of the shock results of the previous weekend. My last visit to the Stoop for a Heineken Cup game saw a lacklustre Quins team beaten soundly by Scarlets would they be able to beat the superstars again? And superstars a plenty emerged onto the pitch as Racing ran onto the pitch, to name a few; Jonny Sexton, Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate, Mike Phillips and the swoon making Juan Martin Hernandez (sorry to behave like a girl but it just has to be done at times!). Quins themselves aren’t short of England internationals but they also have a fair few injuries in key positions so started with some bright young things.
Jonny Sexton had the first shot at points after Mike Brown held the ball after taking a great catch – he’d been pounded by 3 Racing players who were up on him very quickly. I’m watching the match again as I write this and the commentators were clearly convinced the points would go back to France via a backlash for the loss the week before. Jonny, he of the Lions wonder boot missed the posts on this occasion.
Quins moved into the Racing half after defending a French attack with Nick Evans spotted the gap and kicking to the corner for a lineout. Racing won the ball and then a penalty, as Dave Ward went offside, to clear their lines. The resulting lineout wasn’t straight handing the advantage straight back to Quins. Danny Care kicked a ball forward for Mike Brown who was pulled and pushed by Adrien Plante, Brown who has a bit of an edge in his game was also bundled into by Hernandez so we had our first show of handbags for the day. Nick Evans, who when he has his kicking boots on is as good a kicker as any converted the resulting penalty to put the home team ahead.
Quins found themselves in a great position after first Hernandez then Virimi Vakatawa knocked the ball over the dead ball line; the home team had a clear advantage in the scrum and won a penalty again converted by Evans. An uncharacteristic mistake by Mike Brown saw Racing awarded a lineout deep in the Quins half. Racing were in a srong position and won the ball, however a moment of madness by prop Davit Khinchagishili involving some up close and personal attention for Joe Marler by way of a punch saw him sin binned. I thought at the time a red card should have been brandished and having seen it again I still think as much, however it was a mere yellow.
A weird set of events happened next as Mike Brown very clearly knocked on in the middle of the field, all the officials seemed to have missed the fact and Nick Evans ran in to score. Many video ref moments later they all seemed to spot the fact, no try! The next 10 minutes were really all about Quins as they pressed to take advantage of the extra man. They posted 3 points after being awarded a penalty at a scrum on the Racing line. As much as the Quins pack didn’t turn up for the Scarlets game they were to a man very impressive through the whole game, Luke Wallace in particular put in a huge performance, they certainly seemed to want the game more than the men from France. The home team were really superior in every aspect of the game in the first half and they were rewarded with a try on half time as Charlie Walker ran through to score a great 5 points. Nick Evans missed the kick and Quins went in 14 to nil leaders.
Nick Evans had been injured in the first 20 minutes of the first half and didn’t reappear for the second; Ben Botica came on in his place. There was another weird moment in the half as the ref – Alain Rolland signalled for a Quins penalty, put his whistle to his mouth, then let Racing carry on attacking! I’m not one for ref bashing, they’re generally very efficient, but? What was that all about?
The second half didn’t produce too many points – just a penalty a piece for both teams. But Harlequins again dominated, in spite of a half containing only 6 points it was great to watch. What became clear was that Quins played as a team, they were there for each other and supported in all positions. Racing Metro for all their superstars appeared at times to be strangers and really never looked like scoring a try. There were small hints of the skills of the individuals but it just didn’t gel, could this be a knock on effect for the high spending French teams, it’s going to be interesting to see. I’ll be supporting Quins at The Big Game after Xmas, a bit odd for a Saracens fan, but when they’re on form they play a style of rugby to be admired. They still have an uphill battle if they’re to progress in the Heineken Cup but they’ve certainly tipped things in their favour.
As far as Racing Metro are concerned I have to say I was hugely impressed by their players after the game, they must have been pretty upset at a second loss to Harlequins but to a man they gave as many autographs and had as many photos as people wanted. Jamie Roberts in particular gave a lot of his time.