This was a remarkable cup final victory on so many levels. For starters, Harlequins had endured a shocking Premiership campaign, winning just two of their opening 14 games, a run that led to head coach Zinzan Brooke being moved aside in the New Year; secondly, they only just scraped into the quarter-finals of the Shield after overcoming Dax on tries scored; and thirdly, no English club had ever won the competition, which had been solely the preserve of the French.
But Quins managed to put their poor league form behind them to win away at Brive and Newcastle and set up a second cup final appearance of the season. The first had ended in disaster at Twickenham, when Newcastle stole back to the North East with the Tetley’s Bitter Cup thanks to a late officiating blunder over a lineout. Revenge over the Geordies in the European Shield had therefore been sweet and all roads led to the Madejski Stadium, Reading, for a second tilt at cup glory.
The old city slickers, who would have finished bottom of the Premiership had Leeds not been so poor, had a final shot at redemption and Pat Sanderson, who produced a man-of-the-match display, recalls: “Losing the Tetley’s Bitter Cup final hit us hard. We had the game won but in the final seconds touch judge Steve Lander awarded a lineout to Newcastle which was clearly ours and they scored the winning try. It was a huge blow and the disappointment was still very raw.
“There was a lot resting on the Shield final. We hadn’t done well in the league but in the cups we’d been much better, which was classic Harlequins back then. On our day we could be brilliant and beat anybody, but conversely our consistency just wasn’t there. It was a real shame in a way because potentially that side could have gone on to challenge in the league, but for some reason it never happened and that was Harlequins all over.
“We had another shot but knew Narbonne would be tough. They were hugely physical, typically French, and I remember running out and thinking, ‘bloody hell, these guys are big!’ They had some real monsters in their back row but it was one of those rare days when I got my hands on the ball a lot and spaces began to appear. I’m not sure how much of that was good play on my behalf and how much was down to luck, but I certainly enjoyed one of my better days.”
Inspired by 1999 Australian World Cup winner David Wilson, Quins gave as good as they got, taking the lead through Ben Gollings before a nip and tuck first half ended with Narbonne 19-16 ahead. The second half was only eight minutes old, however, when Sanderson pounced. Will Greenwood, in imperious form, fed fly-half Paul Burke, who dummied his way through before putting Sanderson in for the try. Burke later added a penalty and Quins led 26-19 with just minutes remaining, but Narbonne came again and notched a try that took the final to extra-time.
Quins were up against it now and the game looked over when Wilson was stretchered off. “Dave was an amazing player,” Sanderson said. “He was a Roy Keane type, an inspiration to everyone around him, and when he went off I remember looking around thinking what a blow it was. It was so innocuous, he just stepped and blew his knee. He’d been front and centre of everything so to come back and win after that was almost a surprise to us.”
But win Quins did courtesy of the golden boot of Burke, who, after the sides had exchanged tries, slotted two penalties and a late drop-goal to earn the spoils.
The Shield came to England for the first time, with Harlequins winning their first trophy in 10 years to set in train a decade of startling progress that has taken the Twickenham Stoop outfit to where they are today.
“It was brilliant,” Sanderson added. “We had to win the game twice and my overriding memory was how knackered I was at the end. It was absolutely exhausting. But we got there and going back to the club afterwards and sharing it with the fans was a real highlight. They’d waited a long time and I guess in some ways that kick-started the club’s development. You saw the massive potential Quins had and they’ve gone on to realise it.”
THE BOYS OF 2001 – WHERE ARE THEY NOW
1. Jason Leonard: Retired a World Cup winner in 2004, now an ambassador for Wooden Spoon and a member of the Professional Game Board. Due to become RFU president in 2015.
2. Keith Wood: Retired after the 2003 World Cup. Now a TV pundit and after- dinner speaker.
3. Jon Dawson: Left Quins in 2006 to study at Cambridge, where he became a blue. Now a business development manager.
4. Garrick Morgan: Joined Pau in 2002 for four seasons before returning to Australia. Now a director of Gold Coast Rugby.
5. Steve White-Cooper: Twice capped by England that summer but quit rugby in 2002 to move into the executive search business. Is now a director of add victor.
6. Pat Sanderson: Joined Worcester in 2004, where he spent seven years before retiring through injury. Now works in the City and is a TV pundit.
7. David Wilson: 79-capped Aussie World Cup winner was forced to quit after injuring his knee in the final. Back in Australia.
8. Roy Winters: Joined Bristol in 2005 and recently retired. Now an electrician.
9. Matt Powell: Joined Worcester in 2003, where he spent six years before retiring. Initially worked at Sixways, now business development manager at Bath.
10. Paul Burke: Joined Munster in 2004, then Leicester in 2006. Joined the coaching staff in 2008, now Tigers’ backs coach.
11. Daren O’Leary: Joined Gloucester that summer and then had spells at Worcester and Moseley. He is now a player agent with Top-Marque Sports.
12. Nick Greenstock: Joined London Irish in 2002 but retired in 2004. Is now MD of a London consultancy firm.
13. Will Greenwood: Retired as a World Cup winner in 2006 and now TV pundit.
14. Ben Gollings: Went on to play for Newcastle, Worcester and Rugby Lions. Best known for England 7s exloits. Coached Sri Lanka and is still on the7s circuit.
15: Jamie Williams: Injury-hit career ended at Bath in 2004. Now coaching in NZ.
Alex Codling (for Morgan): Retired in 2004. Now in charge of Rosslyn Park.
Tani Fuga (for Wilson): Left Harlequins in 2010. Runs two branches of Nando’s in Auckland, and coaches juniors.
Rory Jenkins (for Winters): Packed up rugby early to become a lawyer.
Ed Jennings (for Gollings): Joined Bedford that summer, then Esher, before retiring in 2005. Now an insurance broker.
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