Sunday September 30,2012
Harlequins v. Saracens
@ The Stoop: k.o.14.00
Aviva Premiership : Round 5
LV Stand:Block FH:Row K; Seat 218: £34.50
A Harlequin, to give the dictionary definition, is “a stock comic character; a clown or buffoon”. While its hard to believe those behind the name picked it because they wanted the team to become a laughing stock, it is perhaps fitting that Harlequins have been teased over the years for being Champagne Charlies; City boys who are all style and little substance. Then there were the red faces (not faked) after the “Bloodgate” scandal of 2009/10.
The rich City set from the commuter belt no longer dominate Quins’ fan base. In fact, the majority of supporters come from the club’s four local boroughs-Richmond, Kingston-Upon-Thames, Wandsworth and Merton. To accommodate an expanding fan base, the Twickenham Stoop has undergone a huge development in the past ten years, doubling its capacity to 14,816. Then there was one new stand but little temporary stands at either end, and there were the changing rooms with just a balcony on top. Teams even had to share toilets. It is said that a decade ago, if you were making any noise people would tell you to shut up. Now, thankfully, the atmosphere is much more vocal.
I have experienced thrilling afternoons at the Stoop, when the sun has shone, the game has been set alight and the beer has flowed. I have also been there when the gloomy weather has seemed to cast a cloud over blocks of empty grey seats and the home side has given the crowd nothing to get excited about.
A match against Saracens is probably the closest one will get to a London local derby. Saracens are quick to point out that when they move to the Allianz Stadium in Barnet next year they will be the only Premiership team with a London postcode. But postal semantics apart, this game pitted the 2011 Premiership winners with their successors. And here were two teams with seemingly quite different playing philosophies. Prior to this game, the home side were scoring tries more heavily than any of their rivals; only Sale, bottom of the table, have scored fewer tries than Mark McCall’s team. In some ways, Saracens are reminiscent of England: deeply committed, highly physical, intelligently structured…and short of ideas in midfield. Their rugby has not been a joy to watch.
A fortnight ago I watched Sarries draw 9-9 with Leicester at Wembley in a terrible advertisement for Premiership rugby. Suffice to say the main statistic being banded post this afternoon’s match-up was that Saracens have not scored a try for 260 minutes. But Owen Farrell’s six successful penalties were enough to spoil Harlequins’ perfect start to the season, and lift his team to third in the table.
“It became the game they wanted to play” lamented Quins coach Conor O’Shea.
In between the shuddering tackles and all-too frequent stoppages there was an intriguing sub-plot at full-back, with Mike Brown and Alex Goode both hoping to fill the autumn Test gap left by Ben Foden’s ankle injury. Brown had the most striking impact, popping up in most of Quins’ brighter attacking moments.
Half-time was enlivened by the appearance of double-gold medal winner Mo Farah promoting his foundation. There was also a rare moment of comedy. Shortly after half-time a pint-laden gentleman was pole axed by a clearance by Quins fly-half Nick Evans, causing him to lose his footing, his dignity and his pints as he emerged from a bar.
After the match Saracens apparently left on their annual boding session to the Oktoberfest in Munich. If only they could start scoring tries, the visit will succeed in refreshing the parts the club’s coaches have signally failed to.
Hog Roast Bap: £5.80
Divine Hot Dog £5.00
Pint of Lager: £4.00
The Stoop is a 10-mile drag south-west of central London, but is reasonably easy to reach via the M25 and M3. Trains run regularly from Waterloo to Twickenham, and the station is only a 10-minute walk from the station, but it still makes The Stoop a lengthy trip for all but south-west Londoners.
Twickenham is cut in half by the A316 dual-carriageway, with the RFU’s concrete behemoth cut adrift from the Stoop. Parking is available in three neighbouring car parks. Most drivers seem to opt for Richmond College or the Rosebine car park either side of the ground. At a fiver a car, there needs to be more than one of you to make it worthwhile.
The Stoop has a small unmade car park, which is finally being resurfaced, but it is only available to season ticket-holders and club guests.
With four modern stands, three of them built in the last 15 years or so, the Stoop is basically a new stadium. The colourful seats are comfortable enough with unobstructed views and almost all are covered. But the low trajectory makes views of the far side difficult, and that’s not helped at all in the Etihad Stand where the front rows of seats are 20 yards from the touchline.
The game was a sell-out, with a vociferous band of Sarries supporters gathered at the rear of the North Stand. Come the end of the game, they were the ones staying behind to cheer their winning side on their lap of honour as Quins fans headed for the exits with barely a shrug.
The game was a 2.00 kick-off .Managed a coffee, and there were the fast-food outlets you’d expect, if somewhat more up-market than your premiership football ground-the “Divine Beef Burger” comes to mind. The prices didn’t seem to put people off.
A hog roast bap was £5.80, and a Divine Hot Dog £4, but the queues for both seemed to show this was no deterrent to this affluent punters.