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Rollercoaster of Harlequins fandom proves winning isn’t everything

Harlequins cartoon
The cartoon summing up the Quins experience

Eager to hear from Harlequins devotees this week – about what it’s like to support a club who might as well run around bellowing “are you not entertained?” after every pass – the first received response was a cartoon of four Harlequins supporters sat next to a defibrillator with ‘Numquam In Dubio” (Never In Doubt) written above it. Many fans gratefully replied, but it was hard to surpass that sketch which summed up what supporting Harlequins appears to be doing to the heart-rates of club supporters.

Here are the club’s last three results since the end of the Six Nations. A 52-7 thrashing at the hands of Saracens, which was followed by a public apology from Joe Marler for a “s--- show”, adding “we were a disgrace”.

Then followed the 40-36 win over Bath back at The Stoop, with the important caveat that Harlequins led 40-3 after 50 minutes. There is switching off and then there is flipping the switch on entire electrical grids. “It was pretty stressful up there,” the club’s director of rugby, Billy Millard, said afterwards, which has to be one of the season’s great understatements.

And then you had the round-of-16 win over Glasgow Warriors in the Investec Champions Cup last week, a victory secured with a maul try four minutes from time. Harlequins had been up 21-7 at one point and went into the final minutes trailing 21-24. “Whenever we’re ahead, we seem to let the opposition in; that’s something we’re working on,” noted a bemused Marcus Smith.

You get the picture. For some clubs this would seem like a stressful few weeks yet for Harlequins, it is merely a season of rugby union. Which prompted the question to supporters this week: are you enjoying the rollercoaster, or would you prefer an easier life?

It is a difficult concept to measure statistically, that feeling of dread or euphoria depending on which bend of the track your club is approaching. Opta show that measuring games won from a losing position at half-time since the start of the 2020-21 season, Harlequins have in fact only won six, with six other Premiership clubs pulling more games out of the fire (Exeter have won 12). Notably, in the Champions Cup only La Rochelle have won more games (six) from losing positions at half-time than Harlequins (four). In the reverse scenario in the same time period, Harlequins have lost seven Premiership matches when winning at half-time, which is only better than Gloucester and Bristol (eight) and Bath (10).

Do not tell your cardiologist but, actually, the drama in sport is often the best part and why any supporter of any club comes back each week. And hearing the testimonies of Harlequins supporters they would not change it for the world, with the obvious peak in recent years being the 2021 Premiership title, after ‘Bristanbul’, when Harlequins stunned everyone. Although, as noted by one supporter in Marcus Cato, the real enjoyment Harlequins supporters gained from that run to the title was not the trophy itself but the style of play, “the joué”, as he put it.

“We really are a team that can win by two points or lose by 30, but that’s the appeal,” wrote Simon Bolton, while Ben Gandy added: “It’s cliché but we’re almost like France in that you don’t know which side is going to turn up. One minute we’re amazing, then we’re terrible.”

“I would say that we never feel safe. But, nor do we ever feel beaten!” added another fan.

There is a serious point in there about fans’ investment, and when any frustration with results stops the overall experience from being enjoyable.

That being said, perhaps the only way to attack a game like this weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final away to Bordeaux-Begles is for Harlequins to throw the kitchen sink at it, and then another one in the second half.

The final thought is from an email by Andrew Outram. “We don’t go to the Stoop to watch a 9-3 penalty fest, and we have an expectation that at home, we kick to the corner and play the Quins game. As much as I’d like the easy life, I don’t think I would change it.” More entertainment and more defibrillators then, please.

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