Sometimes it is not difficult to provide an assessment of sporting achievement. Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, this week said the 5-0 defeat in this winter’s Ashes was “appalling” and “unacceptable”, writes John Payne.

At other times, it is not so easy. Take Harlequins’ season.  Defeat to Saracens on Saturday meant that, after three successive trophy-laden years, Conor O’Shea’s men have for once finished
empty handed.

But although they conceded 20 unanswered points in the second half at Allianz Park, Quins were far from humiliated despite being swept away by a side, which this Saturday faces Toulon in the Heineken Cup final at the Millennium stadium.

For long periods Quins looked capable of building on their remarkable end-of-season form, which saw them grab an unlikely Premiership semi-final spot, and despite falling at that hurdle for a second successive season, O’Shea had every right to express pride at his team afterwards.

However, it is fair to say this season has never quite hit the pre-season heights fans might have expected from Quins this time around.

Three defeats in their opening five Aviva Premiership matches meant they were always playing catch-up in the league, while losing their first two Heineken Cup matches all but ended hopes they had of emerging from their pool.

In some ways, Quins have become victims of their own success with the likes of Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Danny Care and Mike Brown mainstays of the England team.

A feather in the cap of the club this season is to see 11 players named in an England training squad this week ahead of the tour of New Zealand – the four players I have already mentioned being joined by the uncapped Rob Buchanan, Will Collier, Joe Gray, Charlie Matthews, Kyle Sinckler, Luke Wallace and Dave Ward.

That can be a double-edged sword, as Quins have already found out to their cost, but at least it proves there was nothing “appalling and unacceptable” about this season.