England quartet Mike Brown, Danny Care, Joe Marler and Chris Robshaw were on the receiving end of a 5-35 thumping on Saturday at the Twickenham Stoop.
Harlequins were comfortably second best as bottom of the table London Irish swept them aside in a display not representative of their own struggles this season.
There were warning signs early for Quins as Irish winger Alex Lewington crossed four minutes in, only for the referee to correctly rule it out for a forward pass in the build up.
Then the floodgates opened. A brace for lively scrum half Piet van Zyl, followed by a score in the corner by flanker Max Northcote-Green left Quins floundering 0-19 with only half an hour gone.
Harlequins’ defence has been the subject of criticism all season – conceding an average of just over three tries per match.
But this was without doubt their worst showing yet.
For a professional rugby side of any calibre, let alone one with as many big names as Quins’, to defend so limply beggars belief.
Even the most innocuous Irish carries made yards as the home side wilted off tackle after tackle. It was all far too easy.
The second half was little better. A fortunate try in the corner for Jack Clifford the only reason for cheer at a muted Stoop.
Meanwhile, Irish turned the screw. Tommy Bell notched a couple of penalties to keep the scoreboard ticking over, before Tom Fowlie secured the bonus point when he acrobatically touched down van Zyl’s chip.
Credit must go to London Irish who put in a brilliant performance. Van Zyl, James Marshall, Tommy Bell and Alex Lewington all particularly impressed. It is just a shame that this late flourish is all too little too late as relegation looms.
In stark contrast, it was a torrid afternoon for John Kingston’s men. From 1 to 15 they were second best.
But what was most striking was the abject display of Harlequins’ England stars.
Mike Brown had a horror show at fullback.
His afternoon started badly when he punted the ball out on the full after spilling a regulation pass behind him.
Usually rock solid under the high ball, on more than one occasion Irish regained possession after he allowed the ball to bounce.
And twice he lost the ball when trying to force high risk offloads as he tried to overcompensate for his initial mistakes.
Danny Care was no better.
In a recurrence of his Six Nations difficulties, the England scrum half struggled to deal with scrappy ruck ball and was thus unable to control his side’s tempo in attack. On the one occasion he got quick, clean ball he proceeded to drop Jack Clifford’s pop pass with Quins metres from the Irish line.
In the second half his afternoon only worsened. Firstly, he gave away a needless penalty for kicking the ball out of van Zyl’s hands at the base of a scrum. Then a few minutes later his afternoon came to an end as he was sin binned for failing to give his opposite number 10 metres following a quick tap penalty.
In the pack, Joe Marler was lackadaisical from minute one. In defence he seemed uninterested with one particularly pitiful attempt to tackle Franco van der Merwe standing out.
Meanwhile, at scrum time he was twice penalised for pushing early, needlessly gifting Irish possession.
Finally, Chris Robshaw. Harlequins’ Mr Consistent was nowhere near as poor as his England colleagues, yet even he did not have a great game.
He was typically workmanlike, carrying with greater purpose and demonstrating an intensity in defence lacking with the majority of his teammates.
Not for the first time this season, he cut a lonely figure as his backrow counterparts failed to support him.
His knock on in the final minute, with the try line gaping, capped off a tough day at the office for the former England skipper.
The loss was Harlequins’ seventh in their last eight Premiership outings. They lie ninth in the table.
With one of the largest playing budgets in the league, such a return is simply not good enough.
The decision to reward John Kingston and his coaching staff with new contracts in January was met with raised eyebrows at the time.
Surely in hindsight this was a very foolish decision. They appear not up for the job.
With an increasingly exasperated fan base, a chief executive more concerned with off-field matters, and losses of £2.97m this financial year, all is not well at the Stoop.
Yet, what is perhaps of greatest concern to Quins’ England stalwarts is that their international careers lie in the balance.
Eddie Jones hinted after the Ireland defeat that some of his players may have played their last games for England.
Brown, Care and Marler in particular must avoid putting in any more showings like Saturday’s if they are to remain in the Australian’s plans.
If heads are to roll, they may be the first on the chopping block.
Interesting times lie ahead.