The raggedness of Quins victory at The Stoop yesterday afternoon was rather fitting given the gloomy skies and intermittent drizzle. Leading into the match the fears were that Quins lightweight pack would struggle against the bigger Hull Kingston Rovers forwards, but in the end the greater mobility of the home side gave them the edge over a Robins side that often lacked invention outside of a couple of clever kicks from Paul Cooke.
Brian McDermott’s selections raised a few eyebrows with Zebastian Luisi, best known as a fullback, being selected at scrumhalf and Matt Gafa, who normally plays wing, again being selected in the back-row. Michael Worrincy started at prop, having been used in that position when Quins visited Craven Park in February, whilst Henry Paul moved from the back-row to standoff to cover the absence of Scott Hill.
In what was to be a scrappy first half the Robins took an early lead from a Cooke penalty, but it was Worrincy who crashed over from short range to give Quins the first try after ten minutes, Paul Sykes converting. Minutes later the scores were levelled when Ryan Tandy found a hole in the Quins defence to touchdown, but Cooke was off target with the conversion attempt.
At times it seemed that the home side were attempting to play dry weather football, distribution was frequently out of sync with balls being pushed to dummy runners who were then picked off with brutal effectiveness by the Rovers defence, whilst both sides regularly coughed up possession cheaply in the greasy conditions. However, it was clear from an early stage that Quins kicking game had the advantage over the men from Hull, with fullback Mark McLinden in particular coming up into the line to put in some effective kicks to turn around the big Robins pack.
Quins restored their advantage seventeen minutes in when Tyrone Smith pushed himself through a hole out wide as the Robins defence failed to slide quickly enough, Sykes adding his second goal for a 12 – 6 score line. Just three minutes later the scores were again levelled when Cooke received the ball first receiver from the scrum and put through a cheeky little kick behind the Quins defensive line, fullback Mark Lennon was first in the race to collect and Cooke added the conversion.
For a time it looked as if the conditions would nullify the attacking threat of both teams, a run of knock-ons and dropped balls marking out the play, but the best move of the game was to come on the half hour mark when Chad Randall initiated a Henry Paul orchestrated piece of free running rugby which was to see the hooker fittingly finish off the move with a try. Sykes’s conversion was to send the sides into the halfway break at 18 – 12.
After the interval Quins tidied up some of their play, cutting down on errors and Julien Rinaldi picked up the tempo of the attacking game with some snappier distribution from the play the ball, but a genuine fear emerged that the side may run out of players as Randall, Joe Mbu and Worrincy all felt the effects of heavy knocks.
The first points of the half were claimed by Sykes via a long range penalty, but the hour was up before Chris Chester claimed the next try for the visitors, Cooke’s goal pulling the scores to 20 – 18. The response was almost immediate when two minutes later Gafa found his way over, Sykes goaled and an 8 point margin was restored.
Rovers continued to plug away but lacked any cutting edge, Quins resolute ball and all defence shutting down the middle channels. The main threat came from towering kicks from Cooke, but even in the poor conditions it wasn’t enough. In the final ten minutes, Rikki Sheriffe had the chance to seal the game for Quins, but dropped a ball from Sykes with the line begging although the pass was almost certainly forward. In the end it was prop Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook who exploited some tired legs to race through a gap on the stroke of fulltime for Quins fifth try.
In retrospect it may not have been the prettiest of wins, but given the conditions and the rather threadbare look of the Quins squad Brian McDermott will take much heart from his side’s gritty performance.
Harlequins RL: (18) 32
Tries: Worrincy, Smith, Randall, Gafa, McCarthy-Scarsbrook
Goals: Sykes 6
Hull KR: (12) 18
Tries: Tandy, Lennon, ChesterGoals: Cooke 3