Planet Rugby

Preview: Harlequins v Bath

08th May 2014 22:07

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TIM MOLENAAR HARLEQUINS

Crunch battle: Quins v Bath

It all comes down to this. Harlequins and Bath face off on Saturday knowing that the winner will make the Premiership semi-finals.

It's a dream fixture for fans and organiser alike, as the 2012 champions host a Bath outfit who are beginning to resemble the club that dominated English rugby at the tail end of the last century.

As things stand, Bath occupy fourth spot and are three points ahead of Quins heading into Saturday.

That means a win or draw will guarantee Bath's spot in the top four, along with a fairly unwelcoming trip to Allianz Park to take on table-topping Saracens.

Harlequins therefore have to win to overtake their rivals. More than that, they need to ensure Bath don't pick up two bonus points in the process.

A tense finish is undoubtedly on the horizon therefore, partly down to Bath's failure to secure victory over Northampton at home last Friday.

Forget the confusion reigning in the stands, their fans' booing of referee Matthew Carley was pathetic, adding a sour note to what has overall been a hugely positive season for Mike Ford's team (building off the framework put in place by Gary Gold.)

The investment in a deep squad is bearing fruit. It's hard to believe that this has been George Ford's first season at Bath, such has been his influence on their campaign.

Nick Abendanon's Indian summer has been a fitting finale to his time at The Rec before he joins Clermont, while the young talent - Anthony Watson, Ollie Devoto, Matt Garvey - have all kicked on.

So where do Harlequins hold the cards? The play-offs for them are familiar territory.

Last season witnessed Leicester gain revenge for that 2012 final loss by knocking Quins out at the semi-final stage, while this season has seen low moments but a run at the top four when it mattered most.

The key players will all be present on Saturday; not just the England group of Care, Brown, Marler and Robshaw, but the likes of Nick Easter, Dave Ward, Kyle Sinckler and Nick Evans. While Bath's squad has been strengthened, Harlequins' core has remained the same.

While Stuart Lancaster watches through his fingers, Bath and Harlequins will go hell for leather knowing what's at stake at the end of a long season. Only one can go through.

"It's massive - effectively a quarter-final and winner-takes-all for us. It's big but I think this team and the culture within this club thrives on those big games," said Harlequins winger Ugo Monye.

"If you look at us historically - in recent history we have done really well from those big games. We're not in more of a pressure situation than any other weekend.

"With the outcome of it, it means a lot more but we love those games and it's what we train for. From July last year all the way through to where we are today, we want those one-off opportunities. One shot, one kill is what we are all about."

In team news, Easter will make his 232nd Harlequins appearance, equalling Ceri Jones' record for the highest professional appearances for the club.

Easter starts in a forward pack which sees two changes to the one which beat Exeter Chiefs. Maurie Fa'asavalu starts at blindside flanker in place of Luke Wallace who picked up a knock last week.

George Robson returns to start in the second row and partners Charlie Matthews.

In the one change to the backline, Mike Brown starts at full-back.

Among the forwards, Will Collier will look to make his first appearance since sustaining an injury in January's Heineken Cup match against the Scarlets.

Bath have made just one change to their starting XV.

Eusebio Guinazu replaces the injured Rob Webber in the number two jersey for the winner-takes-all game, with Tom Dunn coming onto the bench for Ross Batty.

Form: Quins have won their last four Aviva Premiership matches in a row, including last-weekend's dramatic 30-29 comeback victory over Exeter Chiefs, which kept their top-four chances alive. Currently fifth, three points behind Bath going into the weekend, the 2012 Premiership champions will book a semi-final with a bonus point win, or with a regular win, provided their opponents don't claim two bonus points. Bath have only lost once away from home in their last 13 games in all competitions but have not achieved a season's double over Quins since the 1999/2000 season.

The teams:

Harlequins:15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Tim Molenaar, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Nick Kennedy, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Sam Smith

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Micky Young, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Carl Fearns, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Alafoti Fa'osiliva, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Semesa Rokoduguni.

Date: Saturday, May 9
Venue: The Stoop, Twickenham
Kickoff: 15:15 (local, 14:15 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Nigel Carrick
TMO: David Grashoff

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