Harlequins’ season looks as though it is about to take a turn for the better – thanks to key players who have been omitted from England’s Six Nations squad.
Paul Gustard’s men produced their most convincing performance of the season in brushing aside the reigning European and Premiership champions Saracens at The Stoop.
They put their London rivals to the sword, running in six tries – three of them in a blistering opening spell – in a 41-14 victory.
And leading the way were half-backs Danny Care and Marcus Smith, while number eight Alex Dombrandt again served notice of what a brilliant talent he is with his searing carries and yard gains.
All three have been overlooked by their country but that will be Quins’ gain during the international season, as things stand.
It is true there probably has to be an asterisk against Sarries, as they have just undergone a week of shame, having been notified of an automatic relegation a few days ago over their salary cap breaches.
They looked a club shell-shocked and uncertain of their immediate future – many players are probably processing what comes next for them. They were also without several England players who are preparing for the Six Nations.
But Harlequins’ ruthlessness was so beguiling and head of rugby Gustard was rightly overjoyed by Dombrandt’s contribution in particular, saying England boss Eddie Jones may still turn to him soon, even though he has not made the current squad.
“Alex has done great,” he said. “Eddie will see what he needs to see and how he wants the make-up of the squad. He’s obviously got a picture of the game model that he wants to play in the first game and I’m sure things might change.
“It’s Six Nations. There’s often some attrition, often some injuries and all Alex can do is keep concentrating on his game, keep playing like he did today both sides of the ball, which was great to see, and I’m sure he’ll get his opportunity before too long.
“He’s a special talent, we say it all the time. He hits unbelievable lines. He’s got a beautiful feel for the game, with his offloading and so on. He’s somebody who can get something out of nothing and that’s important. Yet again he had a fine game today.
“Danny and Marcus were brilliant too and Paul Lisikie was great going forward, giving us real momentum and allowed us to play on top of them.
“We’ve been up and down all season and we’ve got to find consistency in our performance and preparation and we’re edging towards that now.”
Speaking about whether he felt the controversy surrounding Saracens had been a factor in securing only a fourth win from the opening nine rounds of fixtures so far, Gustard, who played for Saracens, said: “We just tried to focus on the 15v15 or 23v23. There’s nothing else that we can control.
“Today we competed and got the result that we wanted. All the stuff outside is smoke and mirrors. I’ve got nothing to do with anything off the field.
“Of course I feel sadness. It’s a club I enjoyed 10 years at. It’s a club that looked after me and my family really well – I shared some great memories with a lot of people that are still there now and I feel for them.
“But it’s nothing to do with us. It’s the premier League that made the decision [to relegate them] and what’s happened has happened.
“As a competitor, you want to play against the best and Saracens are the best, so it’s a shame they’re not going to be in the league next year, but I’m pretty certain in two years’ time they’ll be back and flying.”
Dombrandt’s lightning exchange with Care got the ball rolling for Quins, with the scrum half scampered over the line with the match in its infancy.
Then winger Cadan Murley went over in the corner after another thrilling move involving Smith’s astute crossfield kick and fine work from Elia Elia.
Murley bagged a second try and although Alex Lozowski responded for Sarries before the break, two tries at the start of the second half from Gabriel Ibitoye and Lasike effectively ended the contest.
Dom Morris reduced the arrears for the struggling visitors, but a final interception try from Martin Landajo capped a fine display.