Just a couple of days removed from Owen Farrell’s international step-down, Marcus Smith bested George Ford in this evening’s meeting at the Twickenham Stoop, and staked a claim for the England 10 jersey. The contention for the England fly half spot enters it’s next chapter, with Smith starring in Harlequins’ emphatic 36-3 win over Sale Sharks.
Harlequins head into the Champions Cup break on a tidal wave of momentum, after an impressive victory over the league leaders.
Harlequins had the hotter start on a bitingly cold Twickenham night, and after piling on the pressure from the opening minutes the hosts were over to score after just eight minutes. Despite all of the England contenders amongst the back-threes of either side, it was South African fullback Tyrone Green who started the scoring from out wide. After Danny Care’s neat chip caused issues in the back-field, Sale failed to clear their lines, with Harlequins putting the visitors under pressure. The ball was spilled out the back of a ruck, with Green fastest to react for a the opening score.
Marcus Smith drew first blood in the evening’s battle at fly half, and added the extras from the tee for a prompt 7-0 lead. The Stoop faithful were then treated to a real sparring match between the two sides, with few metres given in attack and defence. The structural resiliency of both defensive walls was tested, with both Smith and George Ford settling for penalties when their attritional arsenals begun to tire. After a spell of relentless picks at the Sale try-line, Smith opted for the sticks and sent a 21st minute penalty sailing through the uprights for a 10-0 lead.
Ford followed suit, after an exhaustive set of attacking phases failed to dent the Harlequins armour. The England fly half tried to send his forwards over on punching lines, but has to settle for a penalty from close range to send the teams off at the break. Ford had the final say of the first half, and nudged the ball into the packed Stoop stands to reduce the half-time deficit by three points.
Harlequins came out firing for the second half, and were back over to score after just two minutes post-restart. Continuing on from his fine first half, the score started with Smith slaloming his way through the Sale midfield, and bursting away at top speed. The fly half was suffocated by Sharks defenders, yet Smith had the awareness to find Danny Care’s supporting line, and send the scrum-half over to score. Another well struck Smith conversion extended Harlequins lead to 17-3.
The fireworks were then ignited at the Stoop, as a 30 man brawl spilled all the way into the first few rows. Chandler Cunningham-South was grabbed around the collar by Jonny Hill, which then spurred a mass push and shove that broke through the advertising board. Hill’s offense gave Quins a penalty, which they scored immediately from as hooker Sam Riley grounded a powerful rolling maul. An uncharacteristic missed conversion by Smith, kept the score-line poised at 22-3.
Harlequins continued to assert their dominance, as they added the bonus point score just before the hour mark. Smith began the move once more, as he shipped the ball wide to Tyrone Green, who found Cadan Murley, who exploded down the right touchline. Murley surveyed the options, and played in outside centre Will Joseph who was unmarked on his way to the line. Smith’s conversion furthered the lead to 29-3.
Harlequins added their fifth score at 72 minutes, with Will Joseph grabbing his brace in the match’s closing minutes. The former London Irishman was on hand to wrap up a series of short pick and drives, as Quins then shipped the ball out wide, with Joseph powering over to score.
TRIES: 5 (Green 8′, Care 43′, Riley 51′, Joseph 59′, 72′)
CONVERSIONS: 4 (Smith 8′, 43′, 59′, Evans 72′)
PENALTIES: 1 (Smith 21′)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS: 0
RED CARDS: 0
15. Tyrone Green 14. Nick David 13. Will Joseph 12. Andre Esterhuizen 11. Cadan Murley 10. Marcus Smith 9. Danny Care 1. Joe Marler 2. Sam Riley 3. Dillon Lewis 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Dino Lamb 6. Chandler Cunningham-South 7. Will Evans 8. Alex Dombrandt (Captain)
16. Nathan Jibulu 17. Fin Baxter 18. Lovejoy Chawatama 19. Irne Herbst 20. James Chisholm 21. Will Porter 22. Jarrod Evans 23. Oscar Beard
SALE SHARKS: 3
PENALTIES: 1 (Ford 40′)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS: 1 (Reed 49′)
RED CARDS: 0
5. Joe Carpenter 14. Tom Roebuck 13. Rob du Preez 12. Sam Bedlow 11. Arron Reed 10. George Ford, 9. Gus Warr 1. Simon McIntyre 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie 3. Nik Schonert 4. Cobus Wiese 5. Jonny Hill 6. Ernst van Rhyn 7. Ben Curry (captain) 8. Daniel du Preez
16. Agustin Creevy 17. Ross Harrison 18. James Harper 19. Josh Beaumont 20. Sam Dugdale 21. Raffi Quirke 22. Sam James 23. Tom O’Flaherty
Key Battles and England Hopeful Players Who Stepped Up
Ford vs Smith Battle – Owen Farrell stepping down from England
Following Owen Farrell’s voluntary withdraw from the England squad, all eyes at the Stoop turned to the fly half battle between Marcus Smith and George Ford. Both men entered the fray with the added opportunity of stamping their name to England’s number 10 jersey, with Smith especially eager to move away from his new-found position at full-back.
This intriguing halfback battle began with Smith testing out his skillset from the boot. The Harlequin chipped the ball over the Sale back-line for a fifth minute involvement, that tested the defensive awareness of the visitors. Smith continued to pile the pressure on in the early goings, and chased his clearence kick to the opposing end of the pitch. Sharks scrum-half Gus Warr was lackadaisical in the coverage, with Smith over to make the tackle, and contest the ball at the sixth minute breakdown.
Smith then got the afternoon’s kicking contest underway, as he made no mistake from the tee for the opening conversion after Tyrone Green’s try. As mentioned in the match report, both Smith and Ford opted to take close range shots at goal as there was little defensive give in the first 40 minutes. Ford missed his opening effort at the posts, which garnered quite the ironic jeers from the Quins fans. Yet he made amends to send the sharks off with some hard-earned points at the break.
Smith took matters into his own hands following the re-start, and made a key break in the build up to Danny Care’s try. The halfback kicked into his revered top gear, and got the upper hand on his opponents. Ford was withdrawn after 67 minutes, with Sam James running on as the replacement fly half with the match all but lost for the Sharks.
Smith won the individual battle between the two starring fly-halves, in what has been a chaotic week regarding the England 10 jersey. Smith vacated the pitch after 70 minutes for Jarrod Evans, and received a standing ovation from the Stoop faithful, before receiving one more as he was announced as Player of the Match.
Speaking after the match, Harlequins Director of Rugby Billy Millard shared his thoughts on Marcus Smith’s England contention after a stunning performance.
“I have no idea (who will play 10 for England). I caught up with Steve (Borthwick) for a coffee a few weeks ago, and we just spoke generally about the World Cup and about how we can help you him in his preparations for the Six nations and yeah, I’ll leave that to them. But as I said, like Marcus showed tonight that he can control the game, a tight game.”
Launchbury v Jonny Hill – Two outsider locks pushing or an England spot
There was a battle within the row in this one, as two outside contenders for an England return clashed at the Stoop. Following David Ribbans’ move to Toulon, a vacancy has opened up in the England second row reinforcements. After returning to the Premiership following a brief stint in Japan, Joe Launchbury has stated his intentions that he is not retiring from England duties. Sale lock Jonny Hill was amongst Steve Borthwick’s wider training squad, yet missed out on the final cut for the Rugby World Cup.
Joe Launchbury had the stronger showing of the two locks, and began his evening by picking the ball out of Hill’s hands at the line-out. The Quins second row alerted the pitch side medics for some brief treatment, but he was able to play on after going down injured. Hill had a quiter first half than he would have hoped for, yet had all eyes on him for igniting the mass brawl in the second half. Hill was fortunate to stay on the pitch, after dragging Chandler Cunningham-South at the collar, and spilling the brawl into the stands.
Sale’s usually textbook set-piece failed to click into gear, as for the most part Harlequins had the Shark’s number. Hill was able to claim the ball in the air, yet the following pack did not trundle downfield with their usually efficiency.
Millard talked about the heated brawl, yet admitted that he needs to re-watch the altercation.
“Madness. There was so much going on. And I’m sort of looking through a little peep-hole, I need to have a look at it. I’m glad no one got hurt. You know, when you’re over the fence, and so, I need to go home have a red wine and look at it.”
The Young Guns – Cadan Murley and Nick David v Tom Roebuck, Joe Carpenter, Arron Reed
There was an exciting match up across the back-three of both sides, as four aspiring England flyers heated up the bitingly cold Twickenham Stoop. From Harlequins, Cadan Murley and Nick David ran out with a point to prove, whilst from Sale, Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed put their hands up for England contention. These four speedsters are all gunning for the vacant jersey left by Jonny May, after the Gloucester wing called time on his international career following the Rugby World Cup.
Despite all the England contenders amongst the back-three players, it was Tyrone Green that opened up the scoring after eight minutes of play. The first involvement from an England hopeful saw Joe Carpenter have a moment to forget, as he fumbled the ball before being muscled into touch at 18 minutes. Sale winger Arron Reed was the ‘bad boy’ of the evening, as he was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock on in the second half. Despite the offence, Reed had a strong showing at the Stoop, as he utilised his boot to send nice grubber kicks along the left touchline.
Reed also made dominant tackles ahead of his dismissal, with one perfectly timed shot on Nick David echoing around South West London. Reed followed the flight of the ball, and clattered into the Quins winger for a highlight-reel worthy shot. Speaking of Nick David, he was once again tried out on the right-wing, as Billy Millard utilised Green in the 15 jersey. David cut in well from his touch-line, and offered a capable pair of hands to distribute the ball to the forwards, or the pace to go it alone out wide.
Billy Millard said: “It was always gonna be a massive part of the game, with a pragmatic kicking game and not over playing. So I thought you know, Tyrone, Cadan and Nick David did extremely well, and off the back of good kicking from ‘DC’ (Danny Care) and Marcus. So, yeah, it was a good battle. And as I heard, Alex (Sanderson) say, you know, I think we would have just gotten there, but Caden and those three have been doing it all year, to be honest with you.”
Sale Sharks Director of Rugby Alex Sanderson spoke on Arron Reed’s yellow card, amongst a strong performance from the winger. “Yeah he’s up for like Pemiership Player of the Month or something so I heard. That’s great for him because he wasn’t even starting at the start of the season. But they had us on the rack (for the deliberate knock on). He (Marcus Smith) had us on the rack.
“I don’t know what he (Arron Reed) could have done there, you’ve got to go for the intercept or they’re going to score the try. If it goes backwards you get away with it, or he’s scoring because he’s grease lightning isn’t he. I’m dead chuffed with him (Arron Reed), he’s apologised, and you know the lads have apologised and they’re owning it already.”
“(Joe) Carpenter was good under the high ball again tonight, but made some uncharacteristic mistakes today. But again because Marcus squeezed us really well. And the chase, I think they had a bit more intensity in some of the kick chases, so they’ve got a bit more pressure on us than they had on to them. Roebuck made some good run didn’t he, some decent darting runs and Cadan (Murley) just look strong as he always does, super strong.”
Chandler Cunningham South first Premiership start for Harlequins
Despite getting caught up at the heart of the mass brawl, Chandler Cunningham-South would be proud of the shift he put in on his first Premiership start for Harlequins. Taking the six jersey in the famous quarters, Cunningham-South brought a noticeable edge in attack, and lifted the tempo every time he got his hands on the ball. The former London Irish man was out to make a statement, and certainly achieved his goals with a strong performance.
However, the work-ons were certainly there for the young back-rower. The 20-year-old spilled the ball in one of his many high octane carries, and also made a technical error at the set-piece. In a blemish on a strong outing, Cunningham-South caught the ball at the line-out, but rifled it down to the deck, and out of the reach of Danny Care.
Billy Millard said: “Chandler, he just as Marcus said, he just wants the ball, he’s wild. And we want him to be wild. And, you know, he gives us go forward, he gives us presence, We just want to keep throwing him out there. You know, like, I think you saw he is putting his hand up, a little bit inaccurate in one of the carriers, but I thought he was outstanding tonight.”