It’s been two years since Harlequins swept all before them in the English game, bursting through defences and up the league table with their homegrown brand of quick, exciting rugby. It caught would-be contenders by surprise, and while some of their tricks might have been worked out since, they have never wavered from what they believe in.
Ugo Monye is a stalwart of the club, having amassed 228 appearances for them, and the winger insists Quins will not be changing anything as they attempt to rescale the summit they reached in 2012.
“We don’t compare ourselves to anyone – we’re our own club, we love the way we play, and we’re very proud of the amount of English players that we bring through.”
They may not have won the Premiership in recent seasons, but in 2013 they won both the Aviva ‘A’ League and the LV= Cup – both tournaments which give clubs the opportunity to look at some of the younger players within their ranks – an encouraging omen for years to come at Quins, then.
There has always been a deliberate focus on bringing through young, English talent at Harlequins. Indeed, if you look at the squad list on their website there are just three non-English qualified players amongst their ranks this season.
It is an attitude that has earned them plenty of admirers from outside of South West London, but that has also paid dividends as much on the pitch as off it, with the team playing with kind of fluency that comes only from knowing your teammates inside out.
“Most of the guys that I’ve gone through the academy with, I’ve played with for 5 or 6 years now, and that’s the same across the board,” says flanker Luke Wallace, himself an academy product who has impressed in the first team in recent seasons.
“Everyone’s played with each other for a long time, and knows each other inside out, which is a great strength of the squad.”
While it’s an admirable strategy and one that has certainly lifted the club from the doldrums of mid table mediocrity to consistently finishing in the play-offs, another equally unassailable truth is that for the past two years they have been knocked out in the semi-finals to the Saracens and Leicester Tigers of this world – clubs not afraid to flex their financial muscles to a greater extent in the recruitment of players.
Monye remains confident that Harlequins will continue down the path of nurturing young, home-grown talent rather than signing big-name foreigners, but admits that the club needs to be winning silverware again – and that is how they will judge the success of their season.
“When you look at the books over the past four years, we’ve certainly got more trophies than Saracens have,” he points out bullishly. “Ultimately, we want to win trophies. At the end of the season, we’ll look to see what trophies and what titles we’ve got to our name; if we do that, it’s fantastic and it’s worked for us before.”
“They’re different philosophies, but the way we do it has a lot of strengths as well,” adds Wallace. “And we haven’t been afraid to go out and buy talent – Marland Yarde’s come in, as has Tikoirotuma from New Zealand.”
No change in recruitment strategy then, but how about game strategy on the pitch?
“There are definitely going to be some changes in terms of our gameplan on the pitch,” says Wallace, immediately piquing the interest of Quins fans. “We’ve got an exceptionally fast squad so we’re going to be playing on that strength quite a bit.”
Tikoirotuma and Yarde are the only two signings that Harlequins have made during the off season, the first team squad otherwise bolstered by the promotion of outstanding youngsters like Jack Clifford and Charlie Walker from the academy. Three of the seven newcomers to main squad play on the wing, something that will not have escaped the attention of Monye, who has enjoyed an almost unparalleled run as first choice in the Stoop’s wide spaces. He’s relishing the increased competition, though.
“It’s great – I’ve been first choice winger at the club for the past 12 years, so having that extra competition means I’m going to have to be on top of my game every week. I’ve done that anyway, but even more so now.
“Marland Yarde showed exactly what he’s about on the England tour to New Zealand, and Tikoirotuma, coming along from New Zealand, is an outstanding player who’s had a great season playing Super 15, so it’s good for me and it’s good for the club.”
Wallace, meanwhile, has quietly impressed many in recent seasons despite having to spend more time than he might have liked playing understudy to captain of club and country, Chris Robshaw. He has also been moved to his less natural flank, the blindside, to accommodate Robshaw. The young flanker is adamant, however, that frustration has never crept in.
“Last year it was great to get the amount of game time that I did, but I don’t really see it as playing 6 – we [he and Robshaw] both play a similar game. Before that, Mo Fa’asavalu and Tom Guest were playing ahead of me as well, because they are quality players, so I think it was right that I had to wait that long.”
Talking to Wallace and Monye, it is obvious that everyone at Harlequins buys into its vision and principles. It is the veteran Monye who sums it up best, when asked why, in 12 long years at the club, he has never been tempted by a change of scene.
“I look back and I’ve turned down a lot of money to stay here. But I look at what I’ve achieved at this club and I’m proud of it. I don’t know how much longer I’ll play rugby for, but within that time I want to win as much as I can with this special group of players.”
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Ugo Monye and Luke Wallace are wearing the new adidas Harlequins home and away kits for the 2014/15 season. For more information on the new kits, visit www.adidasrugby.com and join the conversation @adidasUK #evolutionofanicon