Evans impressed with Quins revival

Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans sees the club's return to the Guinness Premiership as proof that relegation does not necessarily have to be a "death sentence". [more]

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Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans sees the club’s return to the Guinness Premiership as proof that relegation does not necessarily have to be a "death sentence".

Evans is still not a supporter of a system that left Quins facing last season in National League One and all the financial pressures that brings.

But Harlequins responded positively and Evans believes they are now operating on a sounder financial footing that will allow them to attack the Premiership on the field and play a significant role in its growth off it.

"I think it means if you are a resilient club it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. But that doesn’t make it right," said Evans.

"If Northampton were relegated I think they would be all right. If Leicester went down they would be all right, with £4million in the bank and £1million profit I think they would just about work their way through it.

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"The Leeds experience will be very interesting. I still think it harms the game, I still think it mitigates against growth."

Bristol, Rotherham and West Hartlepool have all struggled following relegation from the Premiership but Evans was determined Quins would be resilient.

They embarked on a number of ambitious projects, including the construction of the new 4,000-capacity Lexus Stand and a merger with the London Broncos to form Harlequins rugby league club.

Most of the squad was retained, former New Zealand fly-half Andrew Mehrtens was signed as promised and Dean Richards came on board as the new director of rugby.

They were backed by their main sponsors, with the likes of NEC staying on board, and some remarkably loyal support.

Despite the prospect of home games against Pertemps Bees and Sedgely Park instead of Wasps and Leicester, Quins’ average attendance actually rose last year.

"The year tested our resilience. It is not a year we have any intention of going through again but it did test our resilience and showed as a club we have strong roots," said Evans.

"The loyalty from the fanbase surpassed our most optimistic expectations. Our average attendance went up by a couple of hundred.

"Looking forward now, we have gone through our record number of season tickets for the fifth year running and we are hoping to average five-figure crowds this year.

"Virtually all of our partners have stayed with us, our corporate facilities are 98% sold out so commercially the club is in good shape.

"A planning application is in for the new south stand and we are looking to raise the capacity from 12,500 to 14,200 over the next couple of years.

"We are in a stronger financial position than we were two years ago. That is not to say a year in the first division didn’t have some financial consequences, because it did.

"But with the increased capacity, more corporate facilities and an increase in premium seating are stronger financially than we were when we went down two years ago."

Harlequins, the only Premiership club that play in Greater London, are likely to average twice the attendance Leeds attracted last season and Evans feels they can help the continued growth of the domestic club game in England.

"Even with all the structural problems that there are, English rugby has still got a lot of growth left in it," said Evans.

"I would be staggered if the average attendance didn’t rise again this year.

"You only have to look at the ground developments that have already taken place, and others that are planned, to see that club rugby in England and in the Guinness Premiership in particular has a lot of growth left in it."

On the field, Richards has recruited well, with the likes of England centre Stuart Abbott, Wales winger Hal Luscombe, promising under-21 scrum-half Danny Care and new captain Paul Volley all coming on board.

Volley, the former Wasps flanker, joined from French side Castres and was immediately installed as captain by Richards.

"It’s a fantastic opportunity, coming up from the first division and gaining respectability in the Premiership," he said.

"It will be a dogfight. It will be one of the hardest seasons I have ever had. But that is what we signed up for."

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