The children’s tale the Tortoise and the Hare could easily have been written of Harlequins’ season, writes Ben Wallace.
Racing ahead of the chasing Aviva pack, Quins looked home and dry with a 12 point lead by Christmas.
Whether they were caught napping, or the first time inclusion of so many players into the new-look England set up interrupted the team’s winning rhythm, but their early sprint ahead was cut to just two points before Saturday’s game against Saracens.
It is a funny place to be, ahead for the entire season and yet not seen as favourites for the title.
The ever-steady, dependably giant tortoises of English Rugby, Saracens and Leicester were closing the gap.
But maybe this story has a different ending. Beating Saracens at a world record crowd at Wembley changes the almost accepted convention that Quins, while improving, are not yet champion material.
But the reality remains that they out-scored the current champions three tries to one, despite playing with 14 men for long periods and twice with just 13.
Had they lost in those desperate dying moments they would have lost the game, the top spot in the league and – most important – credibility.
Winning, however, means the top spot and virtual mathematical certainty of a home semi-final play off, but above all the mental upper hand.
Before Saturday’s game Quins had not beaten Saracens in five attempts.
Stats are of course history, but history plays on the mind and challenges your belief at the tight and defining points of the game. If Quins do meet Saracens for a third time this season at the Premiership final in May, there will be no fear.
Having led for the entire season, Quins on Saturday finally became genuine title contenders.