There was never any doubt that Harlequins would be up for this. The ‘Big Game’ has become their showpiece event – even last season, in their worst campaign since relegation in 2005, the South-West Londoners found the quality to batter Northampton Saints 50-21.
There was also little doubt that Harlequins would win this game against Wasps. Quins’ core of international stars come out to play on the big occasions.
To mount a serious top four challenge, Harlequins Head of Rugby Paul Gustard will have to add an element of consistency to his team’s game. It’s all very well beating Wasps in front of 82,000 at the national stadium, but if Harlequins travel to Newcastle next weekend and lose, their credibility as a top side will be tested.
Within a minute, Quins were ahead as Alex Dombrandt scored in the corner after a neatly worked line-out move with Dave Ward.
Dombrandt was a little-known proposition at the start of the season, but has flourished in the back-row with Chris Robshaw’s long-term absence. Gustard has made no secret of his willingness to give the products of Quins’ prosperous academy every chance of breaking into the first team – Joe Marchant, Dombrandt, Cadan Murley and Gabriel Ibitoye have all become key members of the squad.
For all Harlequins’ early intensity, Wasps could’ve been level within the half-hour. Had Josh Bassett opened his eyes to the gleaming attacking duo of Willie Le Roux and Elliot Daly screaming for the ball with an open run in, and Dai Young’s half-time team talk would’ve held an intrinsically different message.
But Wasps’ lack of ferocity hadn’t been substituted for clear thinking – they still conceded seven first-half penalties.
Captain Elliot Daly was particularly culpable, helping Quins extend their lead in throwing a cross-field pass to Lima Sopoaga just five metres from his own try-line, with three defenders waiting to win the turnover.
Wasps flirted with a late comeback with Will Stuart’s pick-and-go midway through the second half, but Quins had more magic up their sleeve. This time, England scrum-half Danny Care was the supplier, chipping through delightfully for Joe Marchant to score.
The story didn’t end there, and Wasps could have drawn level in the closing stages as they were camped on Harlequins’ line, but powered by capacity crowd at HQ, Gustard’s side came through for a crucial victory that sees them move in to the top four.
This game was Wasps’ first visit to Twickenham since 2017, where they ended a nine-year wait for a domestic final, but on today’s evidence, it looks as if they will be waiting many more years for their next opportunity.
A side built upon a free-flowing, unstoppable attack two years ago has become toothless going forward, and the curious decision to replace the inspirational Danny Cipriani with Lima Sopoaga over the summer is looking more and more harmful.
Cipriani has masterminded Gloucester’s revival this season; it comes as no surprise that the Cherry and Whites, who lie in third, were torn apart at home to Sale in the fly-half’s absence. Sopoaga has found it difficult to adapt to Premiership life, and was dropped after defeat to Toulouse earlier this month.
In recent seasons, Wasps have competed with Saracens and Exeter at the top of the table, but now they can no longer claim to be the best of the chasing pack – they will be 8th by the end of the weekend.
But this was Quins’ big day. A season ago, they could only have dreamt of outclassing Wasps at the national stadium, but if Gustard can keep building a return to Twickenham in May doesn’t seem too far off.