London Calling – The Clash!
By Worried of Whitton
August 31 2006

The Premiership 2006/07 Season opens with the return of its showpiece, London Double Header, at Twickenham. It starts at 2pm with the meeting of ND1 Champions, & newly promoted NEC Harlequins playing away to their “local” rivals, London Irish, who finished a creditable 3rd in last years Premiership.

The two matches are a repeat of the inaugural London Double Header in 2004, which returns after its sabbatical last year.  In the second match of the Saracens play Wasps. Many supporters from all four clubs were very disappointed when the fixtures were announced as they felt that their opponents should have been either one of the other two “London Clubs”.  When this was queried with Mark Evans at the Quinssa AGM back in June, he was unable to answer why. 

So the credentials of the London Double Header are restored this year, and there will be no need to make a query the Trade Descriptions Act as there is one London team playing at Twickenham. The London Irish opponents last year were Leeds who replaced Quins by virtue of winning the Powergen Cup. The cynics in the green wigs will suggest that the outcome of this match will once more determine the team to be relegated, before the season starts. 

This Saturday at Twickenham is a world away from Quins opening match of last season away to Pertemps Bees in Solihull. In many respects a year in the Division One proved to be much more positive than many expected. ND1 is not an easy division to play in but Quins performed very well and continued to play each match until the final whistle. As the statistics for last season show, unbeaten at home and just once away at Exeter the results produced of twenty five wins out twenty six, scoring 1001 points on the field and amassing a total of 121 points in the league. In addition to winning the Championship, and perhaps just as important, Harlequins also exorcised their Twickenham curse, and won their match against Bedford at HQ, in what was a very physical game.

 This season Harlequins supporters will need to remember how to accept defeat, but not this weekend. Mighty as they are, Harlequins are not win all their league matches this year, but as the new season starts, and with their year in ND1, Harlequins are an unknown force in the Premiership, but they too will need to be wary of clubs they’ve not met for over a year. It is clear with this in mind the recent series of pre season matches were arranged, with Quins journeying to France for two matches followed, immediately by the Middlesex Sevens, and two more matches against The Ospreys and neighbours London Welsh. It is reported that Dean Richards has never won a pre season friendly in his career. Whilst Quins reached the semi finals of the Sevens and were unlucky not to reach the final, they lost three of the four fifteen a side games and suddenly the optimism of free season suddenly evaporates in a cloud of woe. Whilst we all want to see Quins win, the players, management and coaching staff get far, far more from these matches than the supporters ever do. To play such stiff opposition, certainly brings out the survival instinct, and gives an opportunity to try and test tactics, game plans and set pieces without the pressure of the Premiership. A lot more would have been learnt from defeat than victory. In all three matches the team have been competitive as exemplified by a series of yellow cards, one of which in the Ospreys match cost Quins two tries and probably the match. The friendlies ended with a try scoring rout against London Welsh, who put out a second string side after their first XV were down in Wales playing Aberavon, and whilst it may have provided solace after Friday nights loss in Swansea, it is difficult to see what could have been learnt. We must not loose sight of the fact that the season starts on Saturday, where the results are far more meaningful. It is too early to judge. We will have a far better understanding as to how the team have faired in the opening weeks at the end of September, after a series of tough matches. At the a recent press conference, to open the Premiership, Dean Richards stated  "We all know it will be a dogfight, and this is going to be one of the hardest seasons I have ever had, but that is what we signed up for."

The recruitment undertaken towards the end of last season and over the summer has been well publicised and discussed, on the CAW board. Richards is bullish about Quins strength-in-depth and believes all the youngsters are capable of playing at Premiership level and therefore if we get a couple of injuries, we shouldn't have to worry about it. That stated the two young props   Rodgers and Lambert are recovering from operations after sustaining injuries with the England under 21 team in the early summer. The majority of the new signings were introduced at the season ticket holders’ summer party last weekend at The Stoop. Dean Richards has been very shrewd in his recruitment to replace the retirees and leavers, and at the same time has also invested for the future with a number of exciting youngsters in Danny Care and Dave Strettle, who have already played for England. Of the other signings the most notable are of course Stuart Abbot, Haldane Luscombe, Will Skinner and of course our new club Captain who takes up the mantle from Andre Vos of “The Magnificent Seven” , Paul Volley.

Pre season, Quins have had a solid preparation with two competitive matches in France which despite the losses, a lot was learned. In addition two matches against Welsh opposition helped in the final decision as to who runs out and how the game will be played at Twickenham on Saturday.   

Last season London Irish, or is it now Llanera Irish, surprised many, not least themselves when they finished third in the Premiership, winning 14 matches and amassing 66 league points. They were also runners up in the Parker Pen Cup Final. Their rise in the second half of the season can be attributed in part to their rediscovery of how to score a tries, and pick up bonus points.

London Irish have won this fixture two years in a row and the cynics in green believe that history will inevitably repeat itself, with the loosing side doomed to relegation before the season has begun. Lest we forget, Irish themselves were flirting with relegation at the end of the 2004/05 season and were firmly in the mix for the drop on the last day. Yet they turned themselves around under the guidance of their new coach Brian Smith. As well as finishing third last season, and gaining a place in the Heineken Cup this season they also reached the European Challenge Cup final, losing to Gloucester in a fiercely contested match at one of the Premiership Rugby’s top venues, back in May.

Mike Catt, London Irish’s talismanic captain, has urged his team to up their game,"It's going to be very tough this season. The expectation is on our shoulders to go out and win every game is very high but as long as the players keep their feet on the ground and worry about the process rather than the outcome then I think we will do very well. "The Heineken Cup is the ultimate thing. It is the competition to be in and it is vital that we are in there again next season. There is a three-year plan for the club to be successful and at the moment we have got to level one."  An interesting posting on “The Craic” suggested that “This year however there seems to be one addition to our club – belief. Whilst it is a very quiet belief it is growing and building into something that you can almost reach out and touch!”  The Irish have clearly witnessed that it was our Belief, coupled with Commitment and Loyalty that saw Quins through last season. It will be hard for Irish supporters this year as anything less than a top three finish will be seen as a sign of failure. 

Pre Season in contrast to Quins, Irish have had just one competitive match against Leinster, at Donnybrook last Friday, a match they won 25-10, but they will not be as match ready as Harlequins. In addition, Irish have also been made a number of signings, and although there are not the “big names” like Magne last year, it looks as if they have also tried to recruit wisely, including a number of under 21 Internationals, as well as filling positions in the pack which includes a pair of props, Tea’aetoa from Tonga and Pau, and Australian Dave Fitter.

There are two questions for Quins fans to answer at the end of the match “Should I stay or should I go?” the bars at The Stoop will be open after the match. Those who choose to stay will expect to see Wasps “Rock the Casbah”. 

Whilst the old rivalries remain, I’m sure Harlequins were missed last year and there is a reserved sense of comfort and satisfaction on their return. Certainly Harlequins are delighted to be back. The anticipation and expectation from both sets of fans is high,as the countdown to kick off continues, both are convinced their side will win, but there will be only one winner. Whilst both teams are evenly matched there is not much to choose between the two teams however with their greater competitive match preparation, it has to be Quins by seven points.

Come on you Quins

At the time of publication neither side had announced their teams.


Referee: David Rose
Touch judges: Andrew Pearce, Andy Watson