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The 'harsh conversations' of a rare away Premiership semi-final win

By Liam Heagney
Harlequins celebrate at Bristol in June 2021 (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

With only one of the last 14 Gallagher Premiership semi-finals won by the away side on the day, and with Saracens unbeaten in their last 15 home league matches in the league, Northampton must tear up the form guide in north London on Saturday.

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Taking a leaf out of the Harlequins playbook would be useful as it was Danny Care and co who secured that elusive recent away semi-final victory in 2021, coming from 28 points down to beat the table-topping Bristol 43-36 after extra-time.

That epic Ashton Gate story from 23 months ago has now been retold in the opening episode of the new Gallagher Making the Right Call video series that takes a closer look at the key decisions that shaped iconic Gallagher Premiership Rugby title-winning seasons.

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Care is one of the main contributors in the five-minute, 20-second production and his reflections on Harlequins’ interval chat – they were 28-5 down at the time – stood out.

“At half-time, I remember we ran off the pitch to get into the dressing room. Some harsh conversations were had, to coaches, to players, but we were big enough to take it. And then when we started scoring a couple of tries in the second half the whole thing changed.

“The momentum completely changed. You could see it in their heads, they were like: ‘Oh no, this is what Quins do’. And we were like, ‘Right, let’s build on that. Let’s ram it down their throats a little bit’. And then the tries kept coming: one, two, three, four, five… seven, in an unbelievable game.

“At no point did we believe we were out of it. When we get our stuff right on the pitch, we will cause any team problems – and we did. We pulled off one of the biggest miracles in Gallagher Premiership history. It was genuinely the best feeling I’ve ever had on a rugby pitch.”

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General manager Billy Millard explained that the style of Harlequins’ play was what made the seemingly impossible comeback win possible. “The decisions we made on that day (versus Bristol) were pretty much joined up between the players and the staff. When you have got an empowered culture and you have got players and staff, it’s about empowering them to make the decisions on the pitch.

We wanted to play this high-tempo fast game and Nick Evans and the coaching staff and the senior playing group, as well as our athlete performance department, implemented some new drills that definitely we could transfer into the game, more high-tempo drills.”

Skipper Stephan Lewies added: “What got us there is throughout the season was the coaches saying, ‘What do you guys want to achieve and how do you want to get there?’ And then we [the players] said: ‘We want to play an attacking brand of rugby’. Off the back of that, the coaches facilitated the training and so we trained accordingly to achieve that on match day.

“The way we prepared the whole season was playing with tempo and chaos. In that chaos, it was calm. The semi-final was obviously one of the best games I have ever been part of, for most of us. 28-0 down, to come back against a team like Bristol leading the table the whole season.”

  • Gallagher is a global insurance broker, risk management services and consulting firm dedicated to helping business leaders make the right call. To find out more about Gallagher’s Making The Right Call video series, created in partnership with Premiership Rugby, visit: ajg.com/uk/making-the-right-call
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