The dynamic duo set to stage a renaissance at the Stoop
Harlequins’ gradual deflation from 2012 Premiership champions to potential relegation contenders over the last six years has been one of the most lamentable Premiership tales of the last decade. However, the dynamic duo set to stage a renaissance at the Stoop should both allay the supporters’ fears and leave room for liberal amounts of nervous excitement.
The iconic Quins quarters so often seen as one of the most recognisable strips within our great game has almost become a byword for a misapplication of talent. With a strong contingent of current internationals including former England captain Chris Robshaw, scrum-half Danny Care and fullback Mike Brown - both of whom hold the highest record for caps in their respective positions - and British and Irish Lions propping duo Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler, the West London side's slump is perplexing, to say the least.
The apparently invisible haemorrhage of form from the side entrance of the Stoop will have only been exacerbated by the retirement of club stalwart and former All Blacks fly-half Nick Evans and departure of league winning Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea. But if we are being honest, Harlequins' troubles had taken to seed whilst both men were still in residence.
With a fresh new regime under the guidance of former England and Saracens defence coach Paul Gustard, the emergence of partners in crime Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant could serve as the pillar Harlequins' newly-laid foundations will surround.
The arrival of tabloid favourite Danny Cipriani at Kingsholm's gates this summer has deflected a significant portion of the intense spotlight shone on 19-year-old fly-half Smith last season. This will have come as a welcome pressure reliever this year, with the Philippine-born sensation standing as the talk of the town following his England call-up last year.
When combining the demands and pressures of guiding a Premiership side from the pocket and the inevitable learning curve Smith will face while honing his trade as a potential international fly-half, Marchant's presence in the thirteen jersey becomes all the more valuable to both Smith and Quins.
It may surprise you to read that despite Marchant's penchant for cutting linebreaks a 2007 Brian O'Driscoll would be proud of, the electric centre initially progressed through the age grades as a fly-half. The odd deft touch from the boot and calculated distribution are clear tells of the 22-year-old's time at standoff. Something that will have not gone unnoticed by those lucky enough to draft Marchant into their fantasy sides this year.
A bluster of injuries over the last two years thwarted Marchant's shot at usurping England's former first-choice centre Jonathan Joseph, leaving the likes of Henry Slade, Alex Lozowski, Ben Te'o and even the rare sight of a fit Manu Tuilagi to push Marchant to the back of the international pecking order.
Marchant’s loss looks set to be Harlequins', and indeed Smith's, gain. With the former of the Quins starlets presenting himself as both an invaluable safety net as a second distributor and devastating strike-runner, Gustard would do well to build around the talented twosome.
With James Lang, Gabriel Ibitoye, Nathan Earle, Aaron Morris and the most recent emergence of Cadan Murley, who enjoyed a storming debut against Worcester, there is no shortage of young firepower ready to mould themselves around Marchant and Smith.
The next step for Gustard and general manager Billy Millard is that of cultivating a hardened pack. A solid platform of forwards ready to hold their ground against the fierce league competition is exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to maximising offensive output from Smith and co. The likely end of Robshaw's England career post-World Cup and permanent availability of Joe Marler following his retirement will go some way to aiding this endeavour. However, whether the club can hold off the threat of relegation this season, which would surely see their young talent depart in their droves, remains their most immediate concern.
Harlequins may have found themselves in fifth place after the eighth round of Premiership action, but a meagre eight points separate them from Newcastle Falcons at the bottom of the table, and with fixtures against Exeter and Wasps on the cards over the next three weeks, they could easily find themselves closer to the relegation zone than a playoff spot pre-Christmas.
Gallagher Premiership, Wonderkids, Harlequins
Written by: Alistair Stokes
Follow: @alistokesrugby · @therugbymag