x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Harlequins win historic rugby match at Emirates Palace

The first rugby union match on UAE soil between two of England's leading clubs went emphatically in favour of Harlequins as they easily disposed of Wasps 38-13 in their LV Cup match.

Harlequins, in white, halt an attack by their London Wasps opponents.
Harlequins, in white, halt an attack by their London Wasps opponents.

ABU DHABI // What was expected to be a tight battle on UAE soil between two of England’s strongest rugby union clubs went emphatically in favour of Harlequins last night as they hammered their London rivals Wasps 38-13 at the specially-created venue at Emirates Palace hotel.

A dominant first-half performance set up the runaway victory for the Quins, and Conor O’Shea, their director of rugby, praised the way they achieved an eighth successive victory in all competitions.

“It was a special occasion and we rose to it well, especially in the first half, a contented O’Shea said. “I was a little disappointed with our second-half display because I wanted us to be more ruthless but overall I have to be satisfied.

“Our squad is a bit stretched here. We are competing strongly in three competitions and if we continue to perform like we did at times here we will be fine.”

The Anglo-Welsh LV Cup tie was effectively settled just before half time when Will Skinner, the Quins captain, refused to let Nick Evans kick for goal from an inviting penalty opportunity 25 metres out and instead instructed the New Zealand fly-half to go for the corner.

From the ensuing line-out the Quins forwards bunched around Ceri Jones, the prop, and surged with him over the line for the “visitors” third try of that opening period. Evans eventually got that chance to aim for the posts and duly landed his third conversion to give Quins a healthy 24-8 interval advantage, Evans having also kicked a penalty goal.

A fourth Quins try early in the second half, the second by scrum-half Karl Dickson, Evans again converting, ended any lingering doubts of an eighth consecutive victory for O’Shea’s men.

Quins had required only seven minutes to score the opening try at the new venue in the grounds of one of the world’s most famous hotels. Dickson noticed a small gap and the base of a scrum and scampered through it to make the first of Evans’s conversions a formality.

The second Quins try came midway through a disrupted half following an eight-minute stoppage for a serious injury to their prop-forward Mark Lambert, who was eventually carried from the pitch on a stretcher.

“He’s had a scan on what was a heavy blow to the had but he seems to be fine now,” O’Shea afterwards said.

George Lowe took a crash ball 15 metres out and carried two would-be tacklers over with him to give Evans another simple conversion.

Wasps at least had the satisfaction of scoring the first points in this historic game – the first competitive British fixture to be staged overseas – and those came in the opening minute following a Quins infringement at a scrum.

Mark Atkinson landed that penalty, but was deprived of another following uncertainty by the touch judges. Television replays showed that the ball would probably have hit an upright had the posts been as high as they are at corresponding grounds in the United Kingdom.

Tom Varndell, the former England winger, ensured that Wasps did not fall too far behind in those Quins-dominated opening 40 minutes. Varndell profited from a burst to within a metre of the opposing line by Charlie Beech, the prop.

That effort was swiftly cancelled out by Quins as Sam Smith followed up a kick through by Rory Clegg to snatch an opportunist fifth try for Quins to ensure a bonus point victory, Clegg adding the goal.

Wasps had to wait until 10 minutes from the end for their second consolation try, substitute Joe Launchbury getting the benefit of a judgment of the Television Match Official, who had earlier ruled against Wasps when Christian Wade, another of their substitutes, went over in the other corner.

Maurie Fa’asavalu’s marauding performance as a Quins flanker won him the man of the match honours and he reflected: “There were a lot of positives from this win and that can only be good for us in terms of what lies ahead.”