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What makes Harlequins one of the most exciting Premiership Rugby teams?

Despite missing out on the play-offs on the final day of the season, Harlequins have proven to be one of the Premiership’s most entertaining teams.

With players like Marcus Smith, Tyrone Green and Danny Care in the side, this is hardly a surprise, but it goes beyond individual talent. 

Statistically speaking, Harlequins have made the most turnovers, the third most carries and beaten the third most defenders in the league.

Harlequins Podcast co-founder Michael Wood explained: “Turnovers give you a platform for unstructured attack, because the opposition is set up to take the ball on the front foot, which means there’s often space in behind or in the channels.

“You can’t give some of the players we’ve got that sort of time and space to run into the gaps, so turnovers are massive for us.

“It’s like a slingshot for attack because you’re in a position where you don’t have the ball and then all of a sudden you have it back.”

Harlequins play at the Twickenham Stoop. Credit: Eddie McAteer

Flanker Will Evans and Number 8 Alex Dombrandt led the way at the top of the Premiership’s turnover chart by the end of Round 17, meaning that Quins have had plenty of opportunities to launch this kind of attack.

Evans recently explained to the Times that he aims to make the ball playable from turnovers, rather than simply winning the penalty.

This allows the Twickenham side to make use of the space in front of them by unleashing someone like Tyrone Greene, who sat second for metres made and third for defenders beaten. 

Not only that, but the club sources most of its points from tries, with 73% of their points coming from tries compared to the average 67% across the rest of the competition.

Despite their success in attack, there have been frailties in this approach, particularly regarding defence, but Wood said the club plays best when it plays ball in hand, attacking rugby.

He explained: “When Quins have had success, especially in the Premiership era, it’s been playing a brand of rugby that’s exciting.

“There have been periods in the last maybe seven or eight years where they’ve gone away from that and haven’t found success.”

In January 2021, Harlequins parted company with their defence-minded head coach Paul Gustard following a run of disappointing results.

In the following months they turned the season around, reaching the play-offs and mounting a monumental comeback from 28-0 down against Bristol Bears to win 36-43.

They backed that up with a thrilling 40-38 victory over Exeter Chiefs in the final and although they may not have made the play-offs this season, there have been plenty of entertaining games. 

You just have to look at their 41-42 win over Bordeaux in the Champions Cup or the 53-28 loss to Bristol to see their attacking mindset. 

Of course, with such attacking play comes some defensive risk, and the team have conceded the third-most points this season.

Defensive frailties do nothing to dissuade the Harlequins faithful. Credit: Eddie McAteer

Commentator and adopted Harlequins fan Dave Rogers said: “There’s the realisation that you’ve kind of got to live and die by the sword really, and sometimes it’s going to work and you’re gonna have days like Bordeaux and Bristol.

“Other days it’s not going to work and you’re gonna have days like Saracens at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this season [where they lost 52-7], which absolutely sucked.”

Even though the side missed out on the play-offs this season, there is a sense that the fans are happy because they are playing ‘the Harlequins way’.

Thanks to the sheer amount of turnovers the team get through, they are able to let loose with the players that make games exciting for fans, and at Quins there are a lot of them. 

Even among the forwards you find players like Chandler Cunningham-South, Dombrandt and Evans, all of whom are capable of a bit of ‘jouez rugby’, or flair for those unfamiliar with the terminology.

Pre-season will offer Quins a chance to rest and regroup after a draining season which saw them compete on two fronts, but there is little chance of them changing this style. 

Featured image: Eddie McAteer

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