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Monday, October 25, 2021

Harlequins have tapped into the ‘ancient code of togetherness’ with remarkable results

You see, currently Quins have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was a worry that they had used up all their double sixes last season. It was hard to imagine that everything could go right for them again. But I think I may have been missing the point. They weren’t being lucky, they were removing luck, they were trusting their gut because their skill set could match it. I must hold up my hand here that over the years, as an eight-year playing Quin, I often held back on praise thinking the reader may see my kind words as an unconscious bias. Perhaps I have saved it all up for this week.

There is no guarantee that they will keep winning. On Friday they are away at Sale and will face the tough test of the Mancunians’ brutal defence, masterminded by Alex Sanderson. Even so, I do not expect Quins to go quietly into the night. They wouldn’t be TRUE to themselves if they did.

There have been club teams who have played like them in the past. But how many of those club teams faced the oppressive nature of modern defences where players like Kyle Sinckler, Ed Holmes, Chris Vui were running about in the Bristol pack trying to clatter you? Friday had me on my feet cheering, applauding, marvelling at the skill. And you are seeing a team that believes that, until the final whistle goes, there is always a chance.

And they have some real bite to go with the razzle dazzle. Their pack has some lads who understand the set piece. Joe Marler looks in the form of his life, every scrum is rock solid with this hulk packing down. Matt Symons in the second row matches anyone in the Premiership for ballast and game understanding. He is the embodiment of selflessness, the drummer in the band allowing the lads in tight trousers at the front of house to jump out about like fools as he sets the tone. Jack Kenningham is deserving of the word “freak”. There is an element of Lewis Moody about him. Fearless, infinite energy resources, blonde, lean, competitive beyond reason. The unfortunate injury to Will Evans expedited Jack’s time in the first XV. Crikey, he has taken it with both hands. Sensational at seven, in his link play, jackalling, defensive work rate. The pack are not a bunch of sevens players fitting into a team that want to throw the ball about. They are the pack that allow the rest to happen and follow.

Then there are the headline makers at eight, nine and ten. Dombrandt, Care, and Smith are utter box office. Dombrandt seems to be involved in all the key moments of games. The match-defining, game-changing moments have his turnover starting them, his hands linking them or his outside arc bursts finishing them. Dombrandt has a very special skill. He truly understands the idea of flow and acceleration and is the antithesis of “stop-go” as a rugby player. The stop-go players are The Hulks that rely on power and strength without understanding the ability to use flow, tempo and a change of speed to devastating effect. Dombrandt can time his runs, slow his feet, arc his run a little to make sure he receives the ball exactly when and where he wants it.

He does not ask people to thread the eye of the needle with their passes to him, he doesn’t expect scrum halves to magically produce balls from the bottom of the ruck. He waits, he is patient, he waits some more and then he strikes. And if the ball doesn’t arrive when the space is there, he leaves it alone until next time. This kid is a proper rugby player.

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