Brendan Gallagher column
What on earth has gone so wrong with the Quins?
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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