You will have to live a long time to see the likes of what Ashton Gate served up on Saturday. Cornucopia after cornucopia. A game for the fans. No matter if you didn’t wear the famous West London quarters normally, the prosperity brought you in; made you whole. It has been an unforgettable season without, Quins brought us all within.
As a story, it was wonderfully told. The hero’s journey must begin in the normal world; league tables do not lie. This was first versus fourth; Bristol have been very good, all season. And so the game began: Earl, Malins twice and then Morahan told us what we all knew: that, given the chance, Pat Lam’s men can make you look a little silly. If there was a negative narrative about Harlequins before the game began, it was about tries and how they are conceded. A fourth try was notched before the half-hour mark without reply: but it would bear false witness.
There needs to be a threshold to cross; a point at which there is no turning back. Marcus Smith’s high hanging cross-field kick seemed to move ethereally in the air. The magical Malins jumped and perplexingly missed the flight by a yard. Up the ball bounced and forward Alex Dombrandt burst; devastating Dombrandt, cast on looks alone: piercing blue eyes and side-swept mane. As tall as Ajax and as wide as the Cretan Bull, yet swift and light of foot. He stole forty yards and posed a crucial question just before the break: what if we went from what we knew, to what we didn’t?
These journeys are not made alone. An aid or mentor can sometimes step in. There is not just one at Quins, but many. Since Gustard’s resignation back in January, Quins have allowed the group to take the lead. A committee of rugby brains rather than a solitary voice; Evans, Jones, Millard and Flannery all working with the players. No dictatorship, just guidance and ideas. An Irishman, Australian, New Zealander and Welshman. As interval advice was exchanged, a cacophony of accents to aid the charge; a range of rugby heritages to help overcome the challenges and the temptations.
And the hero’s journey must contain a change. A transformation from old to new, from what was, to what is and will be. Lynagh: a name as entombed as they come. Deep in rugby’s labyrinth, the word reverberates; a resonant tone: one sounded every step of Louis’ two decades. Today, he beat his own drum: sonorous and distinct. We heard it as Radradra was thumped to the floor; again as the winger stooped low to plunder ball and earn a penalty; and then once more as the ball crashed down into the corner for his try. In a season that the Stoop has said goodbye to many old friends, Lynagh has been a mellifluous hello.
Another revelation came in the shape of James Chisholm. Originally unpreferred, he leapt from the bench and injected a new thought into the game: intensity. A looping ball from Uren floated above Morahan’s head and as it bounced, amongst the hesitation, Chisholm embodied that ferocity, collecting and corkscrewing in one movement. A third try saw belief fully reborn.
And marvellous Marler. A renaissance man. Quieter now, but louder in his effort. This season has seen a new version of the loose head prop. One that goes longer and further than many thought possible. Less conspicuous in terms of trouble; more obvious in terms of endeavour. Just the ninety-three minutes of vintage pillaring. If an individual can represent a team, Jester Joe is apposite. He has traveled more than most: learned so much. Apt he should be interwoven into such an afternoon.
A Sheedy penalty pushed the hosts seven points clear but as Marcus Smith spun the ball wide and a sweeping backs’ move found its way into the galloping grasp of Joe Marchant, there was only one way this game was heading. Extra time brought more of the same but a winning wind was in the visitors’ sails. Tyrone Green grabbed a worthy score and even though Malins and Bristol had one more weary writhe, the gift was Harlequins’: a handsome reward for a journey well trodden.
Apotheosis? Maybe. There is, of course, one final task. Eerie English shadows remind us that supreme semi-finals are specious, if the ultimate spoils are not claimed. But for now, come all within. This sport has rarely proffered so good a tale.
You’ll not see nothing like those Mighty Quins.