Christmas is a time for family, but also, of course, for rugby. The festive season fixtures often see the biggest crowds through the gates for most clubs, as friends and family gather to cheer their team. The centerpiece of the fixture list has become the Harlequins Twickenham Big Game. Now in its 11th year, it has certainly served up some crackers over the decade.
Perhaps the beauty of the occasion has been that it hasn’t just been a Christmas gift for Harlequins; three visiting sides have been victorious, whilst Gloucester and Leicester have escaped with a draw. Quins have a 50% win record this fixture, but are aiming for a third win in a row, against Wasps in 2018.
🎆 This week we’ll be running out in front of more than 7️⃣0️⃣,0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ supporters at #BigGame11
— Harlequins 🃏🎆 #BigGame11 29th December (@Harlequins) December 24, 2018
Last Word on Rugby looks back at the best clashes of the Twickenham Big Game so far, ahead of the very important clash of fifth vs fourth this weekend.
Harlequins 26 vs 26 Leicester Tigers – 2008
It started as a relatively low key affair, with the top tier of Twickenham closed, capping the capacity at 50,000. 2000 travelling supporters came down from Leicester, who were regulars at England HQ for the Premiership final. Quins were going well in the league and the Heineken Cup, and Big Game tickets were sold out with a week to go.
Current stars Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care lined up alongside marquee signing Nick Evans for Quins, who faced a formidable Tigers pack including Martin Corry, Lewis Moody and Boris Stankovich.
Befitting this top of the table clash, the first half was a tight affair, but Leicester looked to have shown their class by pulling out into a 26-16 lead through tries from Tom Croft and Johne Murphy. But Quins pulled it back to within a score which allowed Ugo Monye to touch down in the corner. A touchline conversion from Evans was one moment of many that ensured he would become a Harlequins legend. The match ended 26 all.
The visitors went on to top the table and win the Premiership title, whilst Quins lost in the semi final after finishing second. More disastrously they lost Director of Rugby Dean Richards following the bloodgate scandal later in this season.
Harlequins 11 vs 19 Saracens – 2011
The 2011 Big Game was certainly aptly named in terms of occasion and importance. This match smashed the regular season attendance record, selling out Twickenham’s 82,000 capacity. It also saw unbeaten, first placed Harlequins take on second placed challengers Saracens. It couldn’t have been much bigger.
As we have come to expect, Saracens did not play along to the host’s tune. A few early penalties from a fresh-faced youngster called Owen Farrell (remember the name) put the visitors ahead, before a David Strettle try against his former club gave them a commanding 19-3 within 30 minutes. It took until the second half and a Joe Marler try to bring the hosts within reach but they were unable to even salvage a losing bonus point.
This ultimately didn’t derail the Harlequins’ title campaign. They returned to Twickenham in May and defeated Leicester Tigers 30-23 to win the Premiership for the first time.
Harlequins 39 vs 39 Gloucester Rugby – 2015
Perhaps the best Big Game yet. Gloucester were into their second season under the new coaching team led by David Humphreys and Laurie Fisher. For Quins, Conor O’Shea was fighting to stop them sliding down the table since they peaked with Premiership victory in 2011/12.
For the first hour of this match the Harlequins cats chased the Gloucester mice, hitting back every time the Cherry and Whites scored a try. By the hour mark, both sides had claimed a try bonus point and were level at 29-29. Then came the magical moment from Gloucester full back Rob Cook. He slalomed his way over from his own half with barely a finger laid upon him. Check out the try on the video below.
As in the first Twickenham Big Game seven years before, Nick Evans rescued his side with a conversion to draw the match. He even almost won the game with a drop goal, but three points each was a fair share for such entertainment. It earned Gloucester an invitation to return the next Christmas that added 7000 extra supporters in 2016.
Play-off contenders meet in Big Game 11
Wasps travel to Twickenham on a very poor run of form. They cling to fourth place on points difference but could fall as low as eighth in defeat. With Quins still struggling away from home they will certainly be up for this match; as if any motivation was needed when at HQ.
Harlequins face Wasps on Saturday 29th December, 1600 GMT at Twickenham stadium
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images