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Slow start to season

Gavin Duffy

Rugby players
DOUBLE TROUBLE Llanelli’s Simon Easterby (right) and Stephen Jones were both to the fore against Harlequins last weekend. 


Slow start to season

Gavin DuffyGavin Duffy

AGOOD START is half the battle eh? Do you reckon that the knowledgeable person who first uttered this well-used cliché learnt from their own experiences? And if so, was it in victory or defeat that they arrived at this conclusion?
Perhaps it was their least successful ventures, in particular, which led them to their findings. It seems to be that with defeat, when all your faults and deficiencies are laid bare for analysis, one becomes all the wiser about themselves. That is, of course, if they refuse to shy away from their downfall. One may even become stronger.
A cliché is a phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse (not my definition but that of the Oxford Dictionary), so does that mean that when our aforementioned wise guy put these few words together to form this once powerful statement it was quickly adopted by strategists across the lands seeking an edge to their master plan? It staggers me to think that some hotshot hadn’t thought of it before!
I won’t disagree though; it’s better to be out in front blazing a trail than be left lagging and wanting in the rear-view mirror of your competitors. But at the moment I’m going to adopt the opposite approach to our friend’s philosophy. Here at Harlequins we haven’t particularly set the world on fire at the start of the 2006-2007 Guinness Premiership. Four defeats in our first four league games was not exactly the plan we went into battle with. ‘Could have, would have, should have’ is a horrible and frustrating phrase to use, but it’s appropriate when trying to summarise our first month back in the top flight.
An 84th minute penalty cost us a victory on the opening day of the season against local rivals London Irish at Twickenham Stadium. A week later we let a 16-6 half-time lead slip against Gloucester at the Stoop to finish on the wrong side of a 21-31 score line.
This was followed by a very poor display against Wasps out in High Wycombe, before we took on Leicester in our own backyard last Saturday week. Again we were unable to capitalise on a half-time advantage as the Tigers left with the four points on offer. Former Harlequin and ex Munster out-half Paul Burke banged over a penalty with the last kick of the game to make it 21-15 as the final whistle blew.
It has been a disappointing start to our league campaign. Playing four of last year’s top five teams in quick succession meant we really were going to have to hit the ground running. Frustratingly though we have coughed and spluttered at times during all four games when attempting to build pressure, capitalise on try scoring opportunities and ultimately on positions we put ourselves in to win games.
Handling errors and ball retention at ruck time are two areas that we are targeting for improvement; it’s a hard game to score points in if you can’t keep hold of possession! But they are very fixable problems. There have been many positive aspects to our game but ultimately, and more importantly, like our aforementioned friend above, it is our willingness to learn from and rectify our mistakes which will hopefully see us turn the corner and get that all important first win.

Welsh trip ends in frustration
WE travelled to Llanelli last weekend to take on the Scarlets at Stradey Park in the first game of the EDF Energy, Anglo Welsh Cup.
The competition consists of the twelve Guinness Premiership sides and the four Welsh regions competing in the Magners League. There are four groups of four, divided primarily into geographical regions with three ‘local’ English sides joined by one of the Welsh regions.
Unfortunately, those in charge have kept to much the same groups as last year so, in effect, as we have replaced Leeds in the Premiership, we also slotted into their group in the Cup competition along with Newcastle Falcons, Sale Sharks (Manchester) and the Scarlets.
All local teams as you can see and as Leeds played Newcastle and the Scarlets at home last season, it is our turn to travel to them this season.
Llanelli are flying high at the top off the Magners Celtic League and their start to the season couldn’t be in starker contrast to ours here at Quins in that they have played five and won five.
Welsh out-half Stephen Jones has returned to his home team from two years playing with Clermont in France, forming a Lions half-back combination with live-wire scrum-half Dwayne Peel. They have many internationals throughout their squad and a few new exciting younger players like winger Darren Daniel who is the Magners League top try scorer to date.
In fact it was Daniels who opened the scoring for the homeside with a try in the eleventh minute, which Jones was unable to convert from the touchline. Big second rower Inoke Afeaki then rumbled over off a five-meter lineout after twenty minutes. Jones adding the conversion to make it 12-0. 
Although down to fourteen men for the last ten minutes of the half we clawed our way back into the game thanks to a well taken try by our speedy winger Ugo Monye. 12-7 at half time and we were very much in the game.
Unfortunately, having strained my hamstring during the week at training I had to come off at half-time. I could feel it getting tighter as the half-time whistle approached and although I was a bit frustrated at having to call it a day  it was the right decision by the physios.
Hopefully I’ll be one hundred percent for this weekend rather than playing on with the possibility of making it worse and being out for a few weeks.
We started the second half well but similar to our previous four games this season we were unable to capitalise on try scoring opportunities that we created. 
The homeside made the most of theirs with two further tries, both converted by Jones to leave it 26-7 at full time. In fairness to the Scarlets they play some good rugby and keep the ball alive when ever possible. Irish flanker and Scarlets captain Simon Easterby is also a master of slowing opposition ball down and again was prominent at the breakdown last Sunday.
So, again, not the start we were looking for in the Cup competition either but with Sale up next at home this Saturday we have every opportunity of getting back on track to try and quality from the group.
League leaders Bristol are our next league fixture away on Sunday week before we travel away out West to take on Connacht in the first round of the European Challenge Cup. A good start is, of course, half the battle but it’s winning the battle that is the be all and end all. Even in defeat, hopefully, we are moving in the right direction.