In spite of the fact that Saracens were facing a big game at the Ricoh Arena against Wasps I headed to Twickenham for the Big Game 8. I’ve been to every one of the Harlequins extravaganzas so far in what’s become a festive tradition for many.
I gave myself plenty of time to get across to the other side of London, which was a good job as my standard 90 minute journey took more than double that time, for no particular reason as far as I could see! The joys of the M25!
I was in plenty go time to meet my Quins friends Henry and Sue for our pre-match ritual of lunch at Patisserie Valerie, in fact my lasagne and diet coke were sitting waiting for me as I arrived – perfect!
We arrived at the stadium in plenty of time and went our separate ways, musical entertainment is a part of the Big Game experience each year and the offer for the Big Game was Rudimental (not Rudimentary as lots on social media seemed to think). I’m a fan so thoroughly enjoyed the 2 songs before the game, it was a shame that things didn’t quite work at half time, but I’ll be seeing more of them at the O2 in March.
Quins had started the season well with 4 wins from 6 games played, Gloucester had a 50% win rate with 3 from 6. Both teams are used to playing on the big stage, the game promised to be a good one! In spite of the fact I do have a ‘soft spot’ for Quins I was watching the game as a neutral, which turned out to be a wondrous thing, with much shouting!
I was particularly pleased to see Jack Clifford take to the field with the number 7 on his back, he’s a real favourite of mine and would be doing battle with Matt Kvesic – another who should have a shot at an England shirt.
Quins certainly know how to put on a show and Twickenham was buzzing as the teams took to the pitch! I’m not going to go into full match report mode as there’s a feast of tries to describe!
The first try went to the ‘visitors’ it needed the intervention of the TMO firstly to check how Gloucester had taken possession of the ball as both Mike Brown and Charlie Sharples went up for a high ball; Sharples did a great job in disrupting Brown’s catch. Jeremy Thrush hacked a loose ball forward, somehow managing to get his hand on the ball before Clifford as it crossed the line. A great conversion by Grieg Laidlaw put Gloucester ahead by 7.
Nick Evans put Quins on the board after a well won penalty before his team went on a concerted attack with Marland Yarde finding himself in space on the wing after his forwards had put in a good shift to pull in the Gloucester defenders. The kick was a difficult one and missed, but Quins took the lead with the 5 points.
That wasn’t to last long as Laidlaw put his team ahead again with a penalty. Matt Kvesic showed his scavenging skills when Yarde put in a shocking kick, going into the ruck and coming away with the ball. Adding to his tally as top of the Turnover table.
We had a fallow spell as far as points went until James Hook benefited from another of those Kvesic steals. The Quins fans in the stadium were very unhappy with the ball coming into Gloucester hands, Kvesic tackled Tim Visser, who he’d released therefore he was allowed to play the ball from a position that had looked wildly offside. Wayne Barnes was in exactly the right position to make the judgement, hopefully when the Quins die hard fans re watch the play they’ll be happier with events. Laidlaw added the extras.
Captain Danny Care was similarly frustrated and used that determination to put his team back in the hunt with a typical scrum half try, burrowing over the line after a hugely strong push through by Jamie Roberts, who took 3 men with him, Care touched the ball to the right of the posts, Roberts head seemed to hit the posts hard as he landed! The conversion closed the gap to 2.
Laidlaw missed what looked to be a simple penalty on the stroke of half time and the teams went in with the scores on Harlequins 15 Gloucester 17.
Jonny May made a bad clearing kick for Gloucester and went down in a heap, clearly in pain he was helped from the pitch, very worrying for England with the 6 Nations looming!
Quins seemed to be in the ascendancy at the start of the 2nd half until a pass to Clifford went adrift, landing perfectly for Henry Trinder he ran in to score from 70m out. The run looked laboured but he made the line to score a great try! Laidlaw made no mistake with the conversion.
Quins had at this stage had 70% of the possession but were behind on the scoreboard by 9 points!
That possession produced the next try for Quins, with Nick Evans finding space to pass to Danny Care, who seems to be thriving in his role as captain. A couple of forwards drives close to the line saw Nick Easter drive over to score; Evans added the extras.
The backs combined to score a wonderful try from the kick off as Jamie Roberts broke through a tackle from Thrush on the Quins 22; Mike Brown was on the end of the pass from Roberts, he offloaded quickly straight to Ross Chisholm who powered in to score a thrilling try! Evans scored a great conversion to put Quins ahead.
That lead however was short lived! Henry Trinder intercepted a Care pass to score his 2nd try, on a distressing note he went down in agony, a real shame for a man who’s made only 6 starts in Premiership Rugby in teh last 2 years. Laidlaw missed the conversion leaving the scores on 29 apiece.
Chisholm was rather foolhardy in trying to play the ball out from his own line, Gloucester were on to him quickly and he conceded the penalty that put the visitors ahead again.
Gloucester were to benefit from a poor kick from Mike Brown, the ball going straight into the hands of Rob Cook way back in his own half; he simply backed himself evading the men in black to score! He had 3 Quins on his back as he went over the line but it was too little to late for the tacklers! Laidlaw pushed Gloucester to 39 points, a 10 point lead with 11 minutes remaining.
Gloucester conceded a penalty from the kick off allowing Quins to close th gap to a single score. The whole display had me shouting like a fool as the game swung one way then the other – it’s great being a neutral! I felt that a draw would be the fairest way for the match to end – and so it was to be!
Quins went very close through a great move which resulted in a small display of handbags as Chisholm was taken into touch. Richard Hubbard was shown yellow, not for his hair style, but for coming in at the side, with less than 5 minutes remaining that was a school boy error on his part.
Ross Chisholm wasn’t to be denied a second time on the wing as Quins made the most of the extra man, we saw the 10th try of the match scored! The kick was way out on the touch line but Evans sent the ball between the posts to level the scores.
With minutes remaining Quins looked to steal the win with a drop goal after stealing the Gloucester line out. Evans looked to be perfectly positioned but fell to the floor as he knew the ball had gone awry.
The game finished on Harlequins 39 Gloucester 39 – what a thrilling match!
I made it into the press conference to hear the 2 quietly spoken Irishmen speak about their teams. With David Humphries up first he rued the fact that his team tend to concede very quickly having scored. Matt Kvesic, Man Of The Match was an obvious discussion point – Humphries explained that Kvesic is hugely dedicated and ambitious, he’s going to be very hard for England to ignore!
Connor O’Shea’s opening gambit was – ‘well, we drew with ourselves there!’ – in his opinion Quins should have won comfortably, he felt the tries for Gloucester were freakish but gave them credit for scoring them. His team allowed Kvesic to be too much of a factor in the game, but he felt that some of the places he was coming in from were ‘interesting’. He had high praise for his captain Danny Care as well as Jack Clifford who ‘carried magnificently and has genuine X Factor’
Matt Kvesic himself came along, he felt that to let a 10 point lead slip was ‘pretty criminal’ and the result a ‘bittersweet’ one. He was hugely disappointed not to make the Rugby World Cup squad but was putting putting thoughts of England on the back burner. I for one hope we see both Kvesic and Clifford in white in 2016 – who knows – they could even replicate the Pocock/Hooper model!