When Conor O’Shea told me a couple of months ago that he thought his side were in with a chance of a top four position, I would be lying if I said I believed him. But he is a man of great positivity and conviction and a man who has hailed his side for their strength of character.
“It doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t just turn one-point wins and two-point wins your way. It comes from a huge belief in each other,â€ he says.
The sheer grit and determination the London side have shown have been the key qualities in battling adversity and keeping that momentum alive in the race for a play-off position.
Going into the last regular Premiership round, the Harlequins knew they’d start the day in fifth position, but a win would lift them into fourth and secure that all important semi-final spot.
Risk-taker Danny Care put the Quins on the scoreboard first, providing an immense, airy pass to Mike Brown on the wing, enabling him to touch down. But George Ford came back to equalise with a solo score, as his acceleration and agility enabled him to wrong-foot and shake off several defenders, sailing over the try line with ease.
But the game really relied on the battle of the boots, with Nick Evans and Ford locking horns, embroiled in counter kicks that would control the game. And it was Evans who kicked Quins into a 10-7 lead at half time.
Back out and alarm bells must have been ringing in Mike Ford’s head when four minutes into the second half, Matt Banahan was sent to the sin-bin for being offside. With Bath down to fourteen, what would the impact be?
Harlequins were persistent and with the 16th man in full voice, it fuelled their trademark effervescent phases of play. Their ability to create quick turnovers played into the boots of Evans, who slotted the penalties concisely. However, Ford was only ever a whisker away, keeping Bath within touching distance.
But in the final ten minutes, Bath were hampered by injuries and looked to have lost their footing, as they failed to create the chances they needed. That said, â€˜fight onâ€™ Ford did attempt an ambitious last-minute drop-goal, but it wasnâ€™t to be, and The Stoop erupted in elation.
Full Time: Harlequins 19-16 Bath
It was absolute agony for Mike Ford’s men, who’d shown consistency throughout the season. To be defeated at the final hurdle is tough to take for any club, especially one with such high calibre players – so what went wrong?
After the game he said:
“I don’t want any sympathy. We should have got to the top four today and we didn’t.â€
For Harlequins though, this is a real testament to the team and the lessons learnt this season. Conor Oâ€™Shea had mentioned:
â€œLooking back at the Wembley game, we werenâ€™t far off and we had a few key players who werenâ€™t playing that day, who are back in.â€
And itâ€™s paid off dividends now â€“ especially giving Brown, Robshaw and Care a break against Saracens back in March.
These are the little things that make the difference and now Quins will travel to Allianz Park next Saturday as the underdogs, but that wonâ€™t stop their momentum says Oâ€™Shea:
“We’ll give it a good crack against Saracens. We’ll play our way and if it isn’t good enough I won’t change the way I feel about what this group has done and what it will go on to do”
Saracens v Harlequins, Aviva Premiership Semi final, Allianz Park, 14.00 Saturday 17th May.
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day (@RhiannonCDay)
To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her rugby blog at: rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.ukrhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk