Six Nations
Harlequins and England's bigger picture
Tom Hamilton
February 27, 2014
Conor O'Shea and Chris Robshaw - a captain forged in Harlequins but leading England © Getty Images

The try was scored just in front of Twickenham Stadium's South Stand but it could have just easily occurred a few minutes stroll across the A316 at the Stoop as three of Harlequins' players combined to give England the lead against Ireland.

When Danny Care crossed the try line, Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea was experiencing contrasting emotions. His pastoral head was enjoying seeing three of his players link up in a ruthless Test-altering manner. The Quins side of his life was still attempting to pick through why they had just lost 25-20 to Gloucester at Kingsholm while his Irish roots were hurting at seeing the country he represented 35 times fall behind.

"I feel immense pride at how our four boys [Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Joe Marler and Mike Brown] are playing at the moment for England, as I'm sure other coaches are with their players," O'Shea told ESPN. "I'm delighted that when you promote players such as Joe and Danny, they come through and everyone has to feel pride. They all say it's the team that creates tries, though it was nice to see the guys combine for a try like that.

They'll be re-judged on the next game against Wales as that's the way sport is. Dick Best said to me 'from back-slapping to back-stabbing is only a game away'

"Going into the game I said I hoped our four lads were going to be the best players on the pitch but that Ireland won. I nearly got it right."

Harlequins and Northampton have formed the backbone of this current England side - the team that started against Ireland had four from either club. For the Quins players in the XV, each of them have had to overcome their share of setbacks before they could experience days like Saturday.

Marler struggled against Wales last year in that famous 30-3 drubbing. Care was dropped before the 2012 Six Nations for off-field reasons and recently had to watch Lee Dickson start during the autumn Tests. Robshaw was omitted from the 2011 World Cup squad while Brown went 21 Tests without scoring a try.

"They are all incredibly driven players," O'Shea said. "Browny will only reflect on his career when it's over and that's the same with Robshaw. All four are desperate to succeed and they have one massive goal in their mind. Like the Olympics was for athletes, a home World Cup is a huge thing for them. Any professional sports person is driven differently than others and has a unique desire to be successful and that's what marks them apart.

"Each of the four have achieved things but to replicate it week in week out is the challenge for top players."

One member of the Quins quarter, Marler, was involved in the scrum at the start of the passage of play that led to Care's try. "It's incredible he's only 23," O'Shea said. "Unfortunately for a lot of the other props in the world he'll be running around for a long time".

But it was his three Quins team-mates who had a role in each of the three stages of the score. Three players who have learnt their trade at Quins and have reaped the benefits of O'Shea's tutelage in the last four years.

© Getty Images

Chris Robshaw ... Oh that's a great pass to Brown

"Robbo [Robshaw] and Tom Wood work perfect together in the back-row. Their work-rate allows Billy Vunipola and Ben Morgan to do what they do best. Injury permitting, they are like Dallaglio and Hill for how much work they put in for this team.

"Chris has been the captain since I came here. He's grown and grown as a leader and has a huge thirst for knowledge. He's in a good place."

Brown up to the 10-metre line, Brown still going

England's Mike Brown breaks the line, England v Ireland, Six Nations, Twickenham, London, February 22, 2014
© Getty Images

"Every journey is a long and arduous one and Brown has had to have faith in himself. He's comfortable in himself and he delivers it week in week out. He's not Mr. Angry though, he's Mr. Competitive. That can be mistaken. He has a brilliant desire to be successful.

"With maturity he has controlled the competitive desire. He's been able to really control how he channels that. He just thrives in big environments and the harder the game, the more people write him off, the more he rises to the challenge. The accolades won't get to him as he will look at how to get better."

The pass back to Danny Care … Care for the line … The game has been ripped open!

© Getty Images

"Danny will need to keep this up now. There's plenty of competition at scrum-half and as a squad, they have five Lions out injured. But I've always championed Danny. He's a match-winner and a great bloke. I like players who get you on the edge of your seat and he does that. You have to back him and tell him 'go out and be you'. I'd loved to have got inside his head when he scored the try as for that last 20 yards it must have been pretty special."

It was a perfect example of what O'Shea has instilled in his players, the belief to back themselves no matter what adversity they are faced with or opponent running at them. O'Shea frequently draws on tradition at Quins and if you sat him and Lancaster in a room together and gave both region-free accents, you would struggle to determine which was which. They sing from the same hymn sheet.

"It's an exciting challenge, and there's more excitement to come," O'Shea said. "We just want to play our way and deliver what this club is all about, you think about Harlequins and you think of entertainment and we want to be true to those traditional values.

"Hopefully the way the players represent us is good. They're all young guys and young guys do make mistakes especially when you are in the public eye and some have to learn the hard way. But as long as they are thinking in the right way and their intent is for the good, then I'm happy.

"People know I get on very well with Stuart. It's great seeing the start, and that's all it is for this team. They'll be re-judged on the next game against Wales as that's the way sport is. Dick Best said to me 'from back-slapping to back-stabbing is only a game away'. That's what sport is and we all understand that. I'm delighted for our guys and I'm sure there'll be a lot of others clubs who are pleased for theirs. But there's a long way to go in what they want to achieve and that's what they'll be judged on."

The time for celebration and patting on backs comes after silverware. At Harlequins they have had 46 individuals play for their first-team this season but they are all one team, the same message Brown produced when he picked up the Man of the Match award after England's win over Ireland. Personal accolades and platitudes mean little midway through the season at Quins and England it seems, it's all about the bigger picture.

"I think anyone who has watched us will know you do see tries like that scored for Harlequins though probably with different players involved. I saw the interview afterwards when Mike was interviewed and they said it was a try created by Harlequins. He said 'no, it was a try created by the team'. That's the way it is."

Conor O'Shea was speaking on behalf QBE, the business insurance specialist, supporting community rugby through the QBE Coaching Club. Visit

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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