'He obviously looked at the fine print and went for the weirdest outfits'
Harlequins skipper Stephan Lewies has explained he is revelling amid the rejuvenated team spirit that has materialised at the London club this year since head of rugby Paul Gustard left them in January, the lock especially hailing the influence that England prop Joe Marler has on the group.
Instead of being available for England during the Guinness Six Nations, Harlequins front-rower Marler told Eddie Jones it would be best for his mental health if he didn’t take up the squad place that he has been selected for due to the bubble restrictions that would be in place during that campaign.
This left the seasoned loosehead available to Harlequins for a rare spring run in the Premiership and not only has his form been exquisite in helping the club progress to this weekend’s league semi-final at Bristol, but the ability of Marler to bring joy to the group also hasn’t gone unnoticed – especially his glittering array of colourful matchday attire.
This diversity at the club is something new to Lewies, the 29-year-old who won his sole Springboks cap in 2014 and had played all his club rugby in South Africa until he arrived at Harlequins for a September 2019 Premiership Cup debut.
“We have people from all over the world here,” he said when asked by RugbyPass to explain what he meant twelve-and-a-half weeks ago when his contract extension media release briefly suggested Harlequins was the most diverse bunch of players he had ever played with.
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“We have Argentinians, Fijians, English players, South Africans so it is quite a diverse group. Where I am from, it is mostly South Africans and if you have a foreigner it is one or two nationalities. So coming here was a lot different, different nationalities, different cultures from all over the world. It has been amazing and we have a few characters on our side. The likes of Joe and the energy they give the side it is just amazing. It adds so much to this team and what we are we about.”
Quizzed on what precisely were the best gags by Marler, Lewies continued: “The best ones I probably can’t tell you. I don’t know if you have seen his matchday outfits when we play at home? So earlier this season I just said it has to be Adidas kit so he obviously looked at the fine print and it didn’t say a Harlequins kit, so he went for the weirdest outfits he can find and he rocks up every matchday with that kit. So little things he does around the camp make such a big difference.”
You would have got long odds five months on Harlequins emerging as Premiership semi-finalists. There were struggling for consistency and the sudden loss of Gustard could have been the final straw that plunged them further down the table. Instead, it became a rallying point and their fourth-place finish was certainly deserved.
“January is quite a while ago,” said Lewies when asked to refer back to that time of the season. “If you know me I can’t remember exactly what happened then but we were at a crossroads 100 per cent back then so we didn’t listen too much to the outside world, if am I honest.
“We had a choice, either we are going to fight and do it the Quins way and enjoy ourselves and get the results or we were going to sink and we have shown the world what we are all about at Quins and when we enjoy ourselves what we are able to achieve.
“When our head coach left we were a man down in the coaching department so we came together as a senior group with the assistant coaches. There was a lot more input from the players and if you put something on the table you want to execute on the weekend, you had to take a lot more accountability for that because if it doesn’t work there wasn’t someone else to point fingers to, it was your responsibility and that extra responsibility for the players helped us in a sense.”
Aside from the various Marler matchday kits, to the fore in the Harlequins revival has been the sumptuous front-foot form of half-backs Marcus Smith and Danny Care, whose attacking threat is invigorating for an abrasive forward such as Lewies who enjoys nothing better than sticking his head up after a breakdown and seeing the play has quickly moved further up the field.
“It’s amazing. Ask any forward, going forward is much easier than running backwards, especially if you come off a maul and you have to run backwards. It’s a nightmare. Look, those two you mentioned are special players. Marcus has been nominated for player of the season and is golden boot so the talent just oozes out of that kid. I can’t wait to see what happens in the future with his career. It is really exciting. And then Danny Care has been there and done it all. He is not only helping Marcus but the rest of the forwards the way he directs us is amazing.”
The only nagging doubt about what Harlequins have to offer in the semi-finals is their recent form away from home – just one win in their six outings. Is that preying on their minds heading to Ashton Gate? “Not at all. This is a one-off game. There is no motivation needed. It’s a semi-final of the Premiership. The boys will be motivated and we’re going down there to do a job.”
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