Bren­dan Gal­lagher col­umn

What on earth has gone so wrong with the Quins?

The Rugby Paper - - Front Page - BREN­DAN GAL­LAGHER

WATCH­ING Har­lequins against Lon­don Ir­ish at the Stoop last week was a deeply un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence and I say that as some­body with much af­fec­tion for the club, in­deed I had the hon­our of pen­ning their 150th an­niver­sary book two years ago.

It’s one thing be­ing knack­ered, er­ror rid­den and aw­ful – that hap­pens oc­ca­sion­ally, es­pe­cially to­wards the end of a hor­ri­bly dis­ap­point­ing sea­son – but the com­plete lack of pas­sion, in­ten­sity and pride in the shirt was pos­i­tively alarm­ing. I know the play­ers to be much bet­ter than that yet to a man they went AWOL.

Af­ter­wards I ex­pected John Kingston to go bal­lis­tic, but he seemed to­tally be­mused by Quins’ no show. Kingston had reached a crescendo of frus­tra­tion back in Fe­bru­ary when Quins got thumped by 14-man Wasps and he de­clared that his team had ‘let them­selves, the club and their fam­i­lies down’.

Last Satur­day there was no anger left, Kingston just looked and sounded de­feated and it was no sur­prise a cou­ple of days later to learn that he and Quins are to part com­pany at the end of the sea­son.

What on earth has been go­ing on? Quins have so much tal­ent on their books and some of the most sup­port­ive fans on the cir­cuit. Yet as a team they have been flaky for a long while now, their one sea­son of con­sis­tency in the mod­ern era be­ing their Pre­mier­ship-win­ning cam­paign in 2012.

The loss of their Eng­land play­ers hits harder than per­haps it should and when they do re­turn those Eng­land play­ers rarely fire for their club in the way the even larger Sarries’ Test con­tin­gent do.

Quins have al­ways been merWHEN cu­rial, it’s al­most in their DNA. In the am­a­teur days with seven Eng­land World Cup fi­nal­ists in their team they stood ac­cused of only re­ally ‘turn­ing up’ for big cup matches or one-off oc­ca­sions when the mood took them.

But what can you make of a club who this sea­son ended Wasps’ long home record, beat Dai Young’s men at home in the Euro­pean Cup and have twice beaten Sara­cens – once in the Pre­mier­ship once in the An­gloWelsh – yet ap­pear so in­ept, flawed and oc­ca­sion­ally dis­in­ter­ested in so many other games? It has to be men­tal, not phys­i­cal. Ticker not tech­nique.

Kingston is a pa­tient and sym­pa­thetic man, too much so. Ear­lier in the sea­son he was badly let down on the field by two mind­less bits of thug­gery from Kyle Sinck­ler and Joe Mar­ler which he ini­tially tried to de­fend. In re­al­ity he was, of course, de­fend­ing the in­di­vid­ual, not the deed, but that sup­port was ill judged. He should have pub­licly led the con­dem­na­tion and de­manded much bet­ter from such key in­di­vid­u­als.

I’ve also strug­gled to make sense of the Mar­land Yarde con­tro­versy. Al­though he rarely touched the heights for Quins – and he can join a lengthy queue there – Yarde al­ways im­pressed me with his on-field en­ergy, com­mit­ment and phys­i­cal­ity. The ex­act same el­e­ments that have been con­spic­u­ously miss­ing from Quins play­ers most week­ends since his de­par­ture.

Yarde’s pre­cip­i­tate de­par­ture mid-sea­son was al­most un­prece­dented and rang the alarm bells. There are al­ways two sides to a story and it sug­gested that all was not right in the Quins chang­ing room gen­er­ally, rather than Yarde just be­ing a soli­tary bad ap­ple.

There have been other fac­tors. I be­lieve Quins have over­done it with the in-house coach­ing ap­point­ments of re­cent play­ers. Nick Evans, Adam Jones and Nick Easter – all out­stand­ing play­ers and in­di­vid­u­als – have stepped straight into im­por­tant coach­ing roles and that doesn’t al­ways work.

Great play­ers don’t al­ways make great coaches and it must be dou­bly dif­fi­cult when you are im­me­di­ately work­ing with long stand­ing friends, re­cent play­ing col­leagues and even drink­ing buddies. There needs to be a pe­riod of sep­a­ra­tion when the newly re­tired coach goes away, learns his coach­ing trade some­where else, and then comes back to the team he loves.

Does any­body doubt for a sec­ond that Ro­nan O’Gara won’t some­day end up back at Mun­ster in a coach­ing ca­pac­ity? But in the mean­time he’s been learn­ing his trade with Rac­ing and Can­ter­bury.

So what hap­pens now? Quins is a big job, Lon­don is a great city, and there is no rea­son why they shouldn’t at­tract a big hit­ter. Do­mes­ti­cally Jim Mallinder and Stu­art Lan­caster seem to head the list but Quins will also look over­seas and have good con­nec­tions in New Zealand.

But don’t go think­ing that a change of coach will au­to­mat­i­cally have the de­sired ef­fect. Quins’ demise has been down to the play­ers ev­ery bit as much as man­age­ment. They need to change and be­come re-en­er­gised and ex­cited about play­ing for Quins. The club motto is nun­quam dormio – never sleep­ing – but frankly this sea­son it has been a case of raro ex­per­gisci­mini – rarely awake.

Game over: John Kingston will leave Quins next month

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