O'Shea's Quins cut loose to home in on knockouts
Published 13/01/2013 | 05:00
Job done. This was an important stepping stone for Harlequins because unless something remarkable happens today, and in the final round of pool matches played out this week, Quins have earned themselves a home quarter-final. It matters
Over the past 10 seasons of Europe's premier competition, the success rate for teams who have had home advantage at that stage of the tournament going through to a semi-final stands at 72.5 per cent.
The best in England last season, a growing opportunity to be the best in Europe this. It has a nice ring to it if you are a Quins supporter. Good sides acquire a swagger with regular success and Quins have theirs. It is visible in the way they take to the pitch and in the attitude with which they play. Up front they are a big, bruising outfit, chests puffed out, and with a seething desire to physically bully opposition packs.
Joe Marler, Quins' irascible prop, gets into far too many brawls during the game for the good of the team. Five was the count in this match. But the rest of his mates, led by the giant Samoan James Johnston, had too much power and know-how for a gutsy Connacht side.
Not that Quins were error free. In the first 10 minutes many of their big names misfired. Chris Robshaw misjudged a restart, Mike Brown missed a tackle and Nick Easter failed to control a ball at the back of a scrum. But all the while Quins were building pressure through dominance at scrum-time and at the breakdown. Quins, with both Danny Care and Brown alert and pacey, may consider themselves an up-tempo side, but it was the big men who laid the foundations in the first half to free up space for the quick guys to exploit in the second half.
Frankly, Connacht could not cope with Quins' heavy artillery. After half an hour they had conceded six penalties to one by Quins, and the Connacht scrum was going backwards. Eventually, referee Neil Paterson had enough and awarded a penalty try to Quins, which was followed by another penalty on the stroke of half-time when the Connacht scrum ended up on their collective backsides once more. Half an hour of relentless squeeze produced 10 points inside six minutes and effectively shut Connacht out of the contest.
It was all a bit of a mess after that. Connacht lost three players to the sin-bin and there was the bizarre experience of a minute of the match being played by Connacht's 12 men against Harlequins' 14 after Marler's 73rd-minute scuffle saw him on the sidelines. .
"There was a lot of stuff going on, but he [Marler] never went over the edge," Quins' director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, said afterwards. "You have to look after yourself in this game. You can never get pushed around. He made sure he stood up for his friends."
That Marler did and his friends repaid him with five second-half tries, the pick of which was scored by Ugo Monye in his 200th game for his club.
Mind you, the run by Brown, where he danced laterally, probing and looking, until he blasted through a gap to provide the scoring pass for the first of Tom Williams' two tries, was almost as good. It was easy peasy then for Quins. Johnston, Marler and the rest had done the dirty work.
"We were really happy to get the bonus point," O'Shea concluded. "We're almost guaranteed a home quarter-final unless something ridiculous happens.
"The penalty try gave us some breathing space and we were more direct in the second half and played some good rugby. We are the champions of England and we want to put out our best in every single game.
"I'm also especially pleased for Ugo. I know the offers he has turned down to remain with us. He has a lot to offer here and with England."
A good day's work for Quins then. As for Connacht? All they can look forward to is the arrival of their new head coach, Pat Lam, who has had success with Auckland Blues and Samoa in previous employments. He takes over from Eric Elwood in June. There is work to be done.
Scorers – Harlequins: Williams (2), Monye, Lowe, Botica tries; Evans 3 pens, 3 cons; Botica con. Connacht: O'Connor try; Jarvis pen
Harlequins: Brown; Williams, Hopper (Lowe 55), Casson (Botica 69), Monye; Evans, Care (Dickson 67); Marler (Lambert 65), Gray (Buchanan 58), Johnston (Collier 68), Kohn, Robson, Fa'asavalu, Robshaw, Easter (Guest 55)
Connacht: Henshaw; O'Halloran (Loxton 67), E Griffin, McSharry, Vainikolo; Jarvis (Nikora 49), Marmion (O'Donoghue 67); Buckley (Wilkinson 44), Harris-Wright (Reynecke 55), White (Loughney 51), Swift (Grace 55), McCarthy, Browne, O'Connor, McKeon (Kearney 15)
Referee: N Patterson (RFU)
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