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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 May, 2005, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Quins must focus on business of rugby
By Ben Dirs

Harlequins, the old cliche goes, are the aristocrats of English rugby.

And like many bluebloods in 21st Century Britain, meritocracy and the spiralling upkeep of their home have conspired to bring them down.

As children swarmed around him after Saturday's nerve-shredding affair at The Stoop, Quins boss Mark Evans wore the shocked look of a country squire struggling to come to terms with modernity.

"How did it come to this?" you could almost hear him thinking. "And what on earth do we do now?"

Country squires are often broken by expensive country homes, and that is exactly what has happened to Evans.

Eight million pounds is being ploughed into the new West Stand, yet the team has stagnated.

It is often claimed that Evans has played an important role in developing the business side of the club in the professional era.

But rugby is the business side.

Paul Burke, a fine fly-half and world-class goal-kicker, was off-loaded last season and no adequate replacement found.

Pat Sanderson, who will lead England in North America this summer, was flogged to relegation rivals Worcester, along with young scrum-half Matt Powell.

Worcester stayed up and both Sanderson and Powell will be playing Premiership rugby next season.

Quins are set to lose around 3m in revenue next year. No TV, no European competition, not enough fans to fill the 12,500 seats at their renovated stadium.

In truth, despite being billed as aristocrats, Quins have never been a major force in modern rugby.

They have won the odd cup tournament, but never finished higher than third in the league.

In that sense, they are a bit like Tottenham in football - lots of talk of greatness but little success in the competitions that matter.

Players of the calibre of Peter Winterbottom, Brian Moore, Will Carling, Keith Wood and Jason Leonard added poke but could never totally expunge that soft underbelly.

Now they face the prospect of losing World Cup-winner Will Greenwood, perhaps their only world-class player.

HARLEQUINS FACTS
Formed: 1867
Ground: The Stoop Memorial
Best league finish: Third (four times)
Cup winners: 1988, 1991
Cup runners-up: '92, '93, '01
Euro Shield winners: 2001
Parker Pen Cup winners: 2004

Will he relish a trip to Penzance next season having scaled the sport's peaks with the Lions this summer?

Number eight Tony Diprose, a colossus in defeat against Sale, may receive offers from other Premiership clubs, too, while young winger Ugo Monye will also be tailed.

And what about England legend and former Leicester coach Dean Richards?

He has been tipped as the club's new head coach but will he still want to come?

As for Andrew Mehrtens, there seems little chance of the All Black fly-half joining now.

Evans has the unenviable task of assembling a squad good enough to bring Quins straight back up from National League One while not breaking the bank.

Bristol, relegated two seasons ago, are an ideal model.

They installed former England scrum-half Richard Hill as head coach and dabbled in the transfer market wisely.

And while a rejuvenated Bristol are breathing the rarefied air of the Premiership, Evans could be rattling round a half-empty Stoop, a fallen squire cursing the cruel realities of the modern game.




Zurich Premiership table
Saturday 14 May
    P PD PTS
1 Leicester 22 342 78
2 Wasps 22 119 73
3 Sale 22 71 60
4 Bath 22 41 58
5 Saracens 22 -44 57
6 Gloucester 22 -80 47
7 Newcastle 22 -121 47
8 Leeds 22 -51 43
9 Worcester 22 -128 42
10 London Irish 22 -43 40
11 Northampton 22 -63 40
12 Harlequins 22 -43 38


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