TRIED AND TRUSTED Ireland's Marcus Horan celebrates scoring his side’s third try despite the challange from South Africa’s Danie Roussouw and Jean de Villiers during last Saturday’s Autumn International at Lansdowne Road.
Two wins on trot for 'Quins'
HAVING lost our first five games since our arrival back into the Guinness Premiership, the month of November is a massive month for us here at Harlequins. Unlike the Celtic League, the Premiership continues with a full programme of games during the Autumn international period, testing the strength in depth of the clubs who lose players to their respective countries. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, we haven’t lost any players to representative duty, although we still remain affected by a number of injuries. Though when you consider that a player spends on average 19 per cent of the season out due to injury, we are no different from most clubs in that regard.
Much has been made of the fact that when Harlequins were relegated two seasons ago, the six victories we recorded all came during international weekends. Yet it’s not something the players have dwelt on or are too concerned about. We obviously believe we can beat any other team on any day regardless of the state of affairs. But if fortune dictates that circumstances are in our favour, we’ll hopefully take advantage and obviously won’t complain! What comes around goes around.
This season, however, Northampton, Newcastle, Worcester and Sale are the four sides we face during the Autumn internationals. Out of those four sides only champions Sale are severely affected by international call-ups. However, many of their English contingent may be available to play against us in two weeks time. This is because Andy Robinson, whose position as national head coach is being severely criticised by the media over here, is prohibited from selecting a player for more than three of England’s four games (including the clash against the All Blacks). After two morale – and confidence – boosting victories over Connacht and Montpellier in Group Four of the European Challenge Cup, we took on Northampton at the Stoop eager to finally make our mark on the Premiership with a first win. Northampton, with Carlos Spencer pulling the strings at 10, convincingly overcame the Borders in their Heineken Cup game the previous weekend at Franklins Garden. They, too, were hoping victory would see them re-ignite their league ambitions after consecutive defeats saw them drop to 10th. A record crowd of just over 11,200 turned up at the Stoop and for two consecutive weekends, the majority went home happy after we secured a bonus point with a 34-19 victory. Northampton had two former Connacht players in the second row, big Damien Browne and Christian Short. It was good to catch up with them both after the game, even if I did have a crick in my neck after talking to them!
Last week was a short week with only a six-day turnaround before our Friday night clash ‘up north’ against Newcastle. We trained Monday (weights followed by rugby after lunch), Tuesday (weights followed by rugby after lunch), day off Wednesday (physio and massage) and trained Thursday morning (rugby). Then we made the long, long, long, bus journey up to Tyneside, six and a half hours long, stopping for a stretch and a half-hour break for the bus driver. Next morning we had a stretch and walk around the ground after breakfast, followed by lunch. Then it was back to bed for a couple of hours before reluctantly doing three one-minute ice baths (which seemed to be the coldest ever!!) to awaken the senses before our pre-match meal at 4pm. Kick off was at 7.45pm and although it was a bitterly cold night at Kingston Park, over 10,000 braved the elements hoping to see the home side build on their victory over league leaders Bristol the previous weekend.
Former Australian full-back Matthew Burke kicked the Falcons into an early lead. But thanks to tries from Dave Strettle and Nick Easter (both converted by Adrian Jarvis), we were 14-3 up at half time. The second half was a dire old affair with neither side really threatening to change the scoreboard. Director of Rugby Dean Richards reckoned that the 27 people who were left watching the game on TV by the end were those who had fallen asleep before changing channel! We didn’t care too much as the four points collected saw us temporarily move to eighth in the table and made the journey home a little more bearable. It was a tired but content busload that rolled back into the Stoop at 6.15am! Worcester, who are still looking for their first league win of the season, are up next this Friday night at the Stoop. Hopefully, with the help of another big and vocalious crowd, we’ll continue to build some momentum. Onwards and upwards!
IRELAND DO REAL DEMOLITION JOB
IRELAND’S AUTUMN international campaign kicked off last Saturday at a windswept Lansdowne Road with victory over a new-look South African side. It was a victory which was full of conviction and style but born out off hard graft by the forwards. Ireland have never before physically dominated a South African side like they did on Saturday. Even with many changes to the side that beat New Zealand and Australia, this was still a big Springbok pack (all of their back five forwards were over 6’ 5”). With the platform his forwards provided along with the service from Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara gave another commanding and masterful display at out-half. His passing along with the clever lines of running from both forwards and backs had South Africa’s ‘blitz’ defence, employed to devastating effect on many occasions before, looking unorganised and extremely porous at times. Four tries is rare against South Africa, yet Ireland may feel they could have had more.
Ireland’s display was certainly in stark contrast to that of England’s against Argentina earlier in the day. As mentioned before, Andy Robinson is under increasing pressure to step down as head coach. Yet his captain Martin Corry admitted that it was the players’ inability to catch, pass and minimise mistakes, allied to their failure to impose their game plan on the Argentines, which ultimately led to England’s demise. It will be interesting to see who ultimately pays the price in the coming days for England’s worst run of defeats since 1971/72.
Ireland A play Australia in Limerick this Wednesday night and although I wasn’t originally named in the squad I was delighted to be called in for duty. It’s obviously a great chance for all involved to press for a place in the senior squad. After a stop-start beginning to the season with Harlequins, hopefully I’ll make the most of the opportunity if I get a run.