Tabai Matson believes Harlequins are ready to launch a powerful end-of-season Gallagher Premiership title defense because of the results of a Christmas time survey he conducted with about 20 players at the club. It was a fortnight ago, prior to the commencement of their two-legged round of 16 European clash with Montpellierwhen the senior coach revealed the exercise he had conducted in December.
I have wouldn’t disclose the results about the private in-house survey which asked players would they rather win back-to-back Premiership titles or win in Europe. However, with their Heineken Champions Cup title hopes having since gone up in smoke on the back of a 60-59 aggregate loss, Matson has now revealed the outcome of that survey and admitted its findings surprised him.
“It was actually 50/50 replied,” Matson when asked this week by RugbyPass if he was now willing to share the survey outcome with European silverware no longer an option this season for Harlequins. “I was really surprised by the people who picked Europe and the people who picked Premiership.
“That was probably the most surprising thing, that people who had maybe won two Premierships and who had played a lot of Premierships, that this was a very important thing – winning a back-to-back title was more important than Europe.
“There was no right or wrong when I asked that survey earlier in the season, I was just curious… We have Jerry (Flannery) here and the Irish are obsessed with Europe and it is used to get them up for the pre-season. I was just curious because there were going to be some decisions we had to make if we got deep into Europe around which teams we loaded. It was pretty much 50/50, but it was surprising who picked which for me. I was surprised around that.”
Last Saturday’s European elimination was pretty much the first bump on the road for Matson in his first season as senior Harlequins coach. With league leaders leicester next up at The Stoop on Saturday, what is he like as a coach quickly picking himself up from major disappointment and getting on with the next thing? “Once you have coached at this level for a while you realize that I have to lead the response.
“So pretty much after the final whistle, once you get over maybe a couple of minutes of remorse, you need to move on and think, ‘Okay, how are we going to talk in the changing room, what language do we need to use? , how are we going to ensure that the team is now focused on the Premiership, understanding they all take different times to get through their emotional process of getting through the game?’
“To be fair it doesn’t take coaches very long to move on and focus on what is required next. One of the things I want to learn from it is as a team is when we are in those situations again, how do we ensure we have the dice loaded in our favor because that is what you are trying to do?
“One of the things I am loving about the Premiership is I feel like we have been playing for eight months but we have got three months of the competition left. We have still got another eight weeks and they are the most important eight weeks. For me that is exciting, that actually now the games matter (most).”
Harlequins are currently third on the table with four regulation season matches remaining before the playoffs. They are twelve points behind Leicester but retain a good chance of catching second-placed Saracens – who are only four points ahead – and securing home-field semi-final advantage.
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