Nick Evans silenced the critics with a youthful performance as he scored 21 points in Harlequins’ 26 – 21 victory over London Wasps in front of 13,500 at the Stoop on Friday night. The 35 year old New Zealand fly half has received plentiful criticism over the last couple of months, but led from the front as he slotted six kicks, crossed the line himself, and set up the 46th minute George Lowe try with an outstanding delayed offload.
Equally brilliant was winger Marland Yarde, who has previously failed to make his mark in a quartered shirt since joining the London based club from Irish at the start of last season. The loose, flowing style of play provided the Quins back three with both space and pace, which Yarde took full advantage of to continually cause havoc for the Wasps defence. Desperate to impress having missed out on a World Cup spot when Lancaster trimmed the squad back in August, he was imposing throughout, making numerous breaks and looking dangerous whenever he was in possession of the ball.
Quins’ new signings also looked to bolster the home effort, with Welsh legend Adam Jones leading the pack in his debut for the London based side. New Zealand born Number 8 Mathew Luamanu was equally difficult to bring down from the charge, whilst James Horwill brings experience and class to the second row, and is an apt replacement for former club favourite George Robson, who moved to France at the end of last season.
Less impressive was full back Ollie Lindsay-Hague, who looked shaky under the high ball, and failed to really penetrate the Wasps backline. No doubt Quins fans will be glad that their world class fifteen, Mike Brown, is back at the Stoop and released from England duty. The three returning internationals – Brown, Nick Easter and Joe Marler – received a standing ovation, and easily the largest cheer of the night from the home crowd. Quins also eagerly await the arrival of Scotland wing Tim Visser, and Wales legend Jamie Roberts, whose World Cup campaigns each respectively came to a close this weekend. Despite his own World Cup woes, Marler put in a strong performance, making a noticeable difference to the home scrum when he was introduced in the 55th minute, and forcing two penalties from his first two clashes with the Wasps front row.
Quins will need to eliminate their own penalty count, however, if they are serious about this season’s campaign. It was, overall, an ill-disciplined performance, with Quins’ opening their Premiership effort by giving away three penalties in as many minutes, and had Gopperth not sent his straightforward attempt on the half time whistle wide, Wasps would have been leading at the break, which could have made the second half far more tense for the home side.
In spite of this, and a late Elliot Daly try which sent pulses racing, Quins were eventually able to topple Wasps in a convincing victory, and Conor O’Shea, Harlequins’ director of rugby, was full of praise for his team in his post match interview: “That’s as well as we’ve played first game of the season in the six seasons I’ve been here. We have loads to work on, loads of execution, but we’re going to be a good side this year… I’m very excited”. Whilst, despite the fact that Wasps have not won in the first round since 2011, Dai Young had nothing but praise for Quins. “You’ve got to give Quins a lot of credit”, he said, “They were far more clinical than us, we didn’t play well, you’ve got to play well to get the victory here”.
Across the rest of the country, yesterday saw Saracens top the table with a bonus point win at Sale, with Charlie Hodgson returning to form with a 100% kicking record, whilst Mike Ellery scored two in the 41 – 3 victory. Meanwhile, at Kingston Park, Newcastle’s second half fight back was denied by a strong performance from the tee from Billy Twelvetrees, who kicked 29 points to see Gloucester beat the home side 39 – 27. Elsewhere, match ups were far closer, with Bath edging Exeter at the Rec 19 – 17, thanks to a late penalty from returning England fly half George Ford, whilst this stunning Tom Heathcoate drop goal in the last play of the match saw Worcester open their Premiership campaign with a fantastic win over last year’s table toppers Northampton. Ironically, the Warriors, who beat Bristol in May’s Championship play off to win Promotion, now have four times the number of points from the opening weekend that London Welsh managed in the entirety of last season. Today, Leicester eased past London Irish 28 – 16 in their season opener at the Madejski, in which the Exiles were left frustrated as they failed to compete with a second grade Tigers side.