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Friday September 13,2013
Harlequins v Northampton Saints
@ The Stoop: k.o. 19.45
Aviva Premiership : Round 2
L.V.Stand:Block FH:Row J : Seat 0215: ££37.50
The last time I was at the Stoop was to watch London Broncos in Superleague.It was played on an August evening in conditions so hot and humid that the players were complaining afterwards that they were even finding it difficult breathing.
That wasn’t a problem tonight. Staying upright was. It was wet, really wet, and it seemed to suit Northampton more all the way down to the sodden ground.
B.T.had selected this match as a free-to-all offering, presumably in the hope that the scintillating rugby on offer would prompt wannabee rugby fans to rush off and buy a subscription. If that was the case they must have despaired when they saw the weather forecast.
A week ago I had witnessed Northampton demolish Exeter with four tries before half time. Quins are a side that like to throw the ball about. But throw in a downpour from start to finish and it was obvious that the team that would triumph was that which adapted to the conditions-and had the luck of the bounce.
Quins are in the rugby union corridor that leads from Richmond to Cornwall. The Stoop is a 10-mile drag south-west of central London, but is easily reached via the M25 and M3.
Trains run regularly from Waterloo and the ground is only a 15-minute walk from Twickenham Station.
Parking is available in neighbouring car parks, including Richmond College next door. The concrete behemoth that is Twickenham stadium is blessed with large car parks so you could chance your arm and park there, and make the 5-minute walk over the A316 dual-carriageway.
The game was played in heavy, incessant rain, so it was a wonder anyone could raise a smile. The club were using a new electronic system at the turnstiles which seemed to be working smoothly enough judging by the speed with which people got through.
Understandably, the programme seller looked as if she would rather be elsewhere.
With four modern stands the stoop is basically a new stadium, and must be one of the best in the Premiership. The colourful seats are comfortable enough, with unobstructed views, and almost all are covered.
That was especially important on a night like tonight. I had paid £37.50 for a seat in Row J, but I did feel sorry for those unfortunates who were sitting in the first few rows and virtually unprotected from the elements.
I suppose you could blame it on the dampening effect-literally-of the weather but there wasn’t much of an atmosphere. This couldn’t have been helped by the home team’s inability to score a try, and even to kick their penalties.
Saints had brought a small but noisy group of fans and you just sensed they just cared more about the result.
A try on the hour by Northampton’s James Wilson, converted from the touchline by Stephen Myler, was enough to split the sides. When Northampton picks a side like this they are big, brutishly big. At least three of their backs, including George North, could probably operate in the back row of the pack. And there weren’t many saints among the forwards either. With the rain teeming down, Quins knew they were in for a night of fierce, unrelenting, close-quarter pain, and to their credit they met the challenge head on. Ironically, Quins could still have won comfortably but for the remarkable profligacy of Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans. Normally one of the most accurate kickers in the Aviva Premiership he missed four of his six kicks at goal. Eventually he was replaced by Ben Botica, but then he pulled a shot in front of the posts.
The game had been billed as an early-season showdown of two title contenders, littered with enthralling head-to-heads, including the back-row battle for the England captaincy between Chris Robshaw and Tom Wood, but the torrential rain ruined any chance of a spectacle and turned the match into a war of attrition.
In a tight game played in unhelpful conditions Quins paid the price for not taking their chances while Northampton did.