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Re: Problems run deep according to Mike Brown
Posted by: Cookadoodledoo
Date: 02/01/2018 15:10
Here we go, folks. A pretty good and fair summary:

Harlequins go in to Big Game Ten at Twickenham this afternoon and their supporters have every right to be worried. Harlequins are brilliant at putting together a big game. The problem is that they tend to follow it up with a small one.

There is no other team in the Premiership with such an ability to take a big scalp and then trip up the next week. There is no other team who have spent so long on the launchpad to great things, who attempt take-off, briefly take flight and then nosedive.

Boy, can they lift themselves. They are better at beating Saracens at home than any other team in the Premiership. They did it only four weeks ago. But they then lost twice to Ulster and to Newcastle Falcons by one point.

It was the same story at the start of the season. Wasps had not lost at home in the Premiership since December 2015 but our mighty Quins brought that streak to an end in September. “We took the castle at the Ricoh,” John Kingston, the director of rugby, said. Indeed they did. But their own castle, the Stoop, was stormed the next week by Leicester.

If only Harlequins could be consistent. It is easy to say that from the outside; from the inside, it must be hell. This is the view of Mike Brown, who is not one to sugar-coat a bitter reality: “We are not consistent enough. We get one big win and then drop off a week later. If we want to be at the top, we have to do it week in, week out,” he said.

Why can’t they? “It must be mindset,” the full back said. “In this league, you can’t go in not fired up for the game, not in the right frame of mind, and not do the stuff you’ve worked on during the week. It’s very frustrating. We want to be playing for trophies, we want to be top of the league and back to where we were in 2012. As a player, it is tough.”

The tumble down the league from 2012 has been fast. Harlequins went from being Championship winners that year to third to fourth and then to eighth. This is their fourth consecutive season of mid-table inertia.

There is another team who have followed the same path of regression; Northampton Saints, who they play today. They were also the two English teams who bombed in the Champions Cup this autumn, with four defeats from four. Their seasons seem to be all about waging a campaign to qualify for Europe, and then, when they get there, finding that they are not fit to survive.

On the one hand, there are players such as Brown for whom this relentless mid-table existence is a kind of purgatory. On the other, there is a danger that mid-table becomes the accepted way. Nick Evans, for so long their star No 10 and now on the coaching staff, says: “Yes, that is something that we are very conscious of, that we need to change — being hard on ourselves as a coaching group and as players as well, saying, ‘This isn’t good enough.’ ”

Of course, no mid-term assessment is possible without acknowledgement of their preposterous injury list. From Kingston’s two biggest summer signings, Demetri Catrakilis and Francis Saili, he has had a total of 44 minutes of Premiership action all season. He has been without his two first-choice hookers since October. Last month, of five No 9s, not one was available, so he had to sign short contracts on two more.

For the Ulster away leg, Kingston says, there were so few players available that “my cat could have picked the squad”. He also says: “I have no idea what my best team is because of the number of players unavailable.”

This also allows him to speculate on what could be achieved when the troops start to return. “I have openly said, ‘I want us to be champions of England’,” he admits. “The players want us to be champions of England, too.”

Right now, that seems like wishful thinking, with Harlequins ninth and closer in points to the bottom than the top. Yet they have so many good players, they genuinely do have top-four potential.

At the start of the month, Kingston told his squad: “You only have four Premiership games between now and February, at which point the injury situation will have improved; hang on in there in the Premiership table for those four games, and then fourth spot and the play-offs remain a possibility.” In other words, these games are pivotal; the season lives or dies by them.

They started by beating Saracens but defeat by Newcastle means that today and Sale Sharks next weekend are massive. So why the inconsistency?

“It’s a few things,” Brown said, “some of which we wouldn’t want to air in public. The international and senior players try and drive it. But we can’t always be doing it. That’s probably why you see the frustration sometimes. We try to take ownership of a lot of stuff, but it’s not just us, the coaches and the other players need to do that as well.”

Now, if ever, is the time for the whole squad. Kingston is sure that they are making progress. “I am not just convinced, I know we are,” he says. “This side is way better than last year’s.”

It sounds great. For those one-off victories, it looks great, too. Today is called Big Game Ten. What Harlequins actually need is ten big games, starting now.

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