Planet Rugby

Preview: Harlequins v Leicester

17th April 2014 11:20

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SKY_MOBILE Chris Robshaw Harlequins

Chris Robshaw: Leads an unchanged Quins team

With no time to waste as the number of fixtures in this Aviva Premiership season wittles down to three, Harlequins host Leicester Tigers on Friday.

When Conor O'Shea stated the other week that every game left for Harlequins was a cup final, he wasn't kidding.

After impressively dispatching Sale Sharks last Friday away from home, a bigger challenge awaits in the arrival of the Tigers.

Harlequins though are currently blessed. Whatever they achieve domestically this season, perhaps the defining moment for the club came not in their familiar chequered attire but in the white of England.

Danny Care's try against Ireland embodied how important Harlequins are to Stuart Lancaster's cause. It also exemplified how talented the trio of England captain Chris Robshaw, player of the Six Nations Mike Brown and Care all are.

It marks a changing of the tide. For years, Leicester Tigers supplied the backbone of the England side, the fulcrum of their success. Cast your mind back to the latter stages of the Six Nations and before Manu Tuilagi's return to fitness off the bench against the Azzurri, only Tom Youngs was present as a representative thanks to injuries to Dan Cole and Geoff Parling.

Leicester have always been a fierce unit, but this pack of Tigers feel somewhat more insulated than before. It isn't a bad thing, because a new wave of talent is being developed under the guise of Richard Cockerill to lift more trophies.

Yet for a moment at the beginning of the season it almost felt as though their time has been and gone. An uncharacteristically poor run of results and a horrid injury list that deprived Leicester of so many top players - Parling, Tuilagi, Tom Croft - meant that they have been fighting their way back into contention. It shouldn't come as any surprise to find the Tigers in contention for the playoffs now in April, but it's no less remarkable.

That new crop however holds great promise. Ed Slater's elevation to the captaincy is not a case of passing the armband onto the next man. The young lock holds huge potential, appears wise beyond his years and cannot be far away from a Test spot with England in the immediate future. Others around are putting their hands up - Jamie Gibson is one, the successor to Craig Newby, while Owen Williams is another.

Toby Flood had become the face of the Tigers, but Leicester's faith has been placed in the hands and boot of 21-year-old Williams of whom much was expected, but perhaps not so soon.

Back to the matter at hand, both sides arrive at Friday's crucial fixture in red hot form. Leicester travelled to Franklin's Gardens to face their arch rivals Northampton - there is no love lost there - and won. Last weekend they faced London Wasps and were off-colour, yet scored four tries and won again.

Tuilagi has returned with a point to prove, like a wrecking ball. Vereniki Goneva's new contract may end up to be the signing of the season, greater than Gloucester adding steel to their front-row or even Sam Burgess crossing codes to join Bath. He is the league's top try scorer and throughout this season has been impossible to contain.

Such is the strength of the two sides and the number of intriguing head to heads, that a prediction is far from obvious to make.

Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea has named an unchanged squad for this clash with the Tigers at the Stoop.

This is the second week running that there are no changes to Quins' matchday 23, while the starting team is unchanged for the third consecutive week.

Meanwhile, despite Williams' fine recent form, Flood will start ahead of him for the Tigers.

The England stalwart returns to Leicester's run-on side for this crucial clash along with Anthony Allen.

Club captain Flood starts at fly-half, with Allen returning at centre after missing last weekend's bonus-point win over London Wasps at Welford Road.

There are changes in the front row where international props Marcos Ayerza and Logovi'i Mulipola return and Neil Briggs comes in to start at hooker.

Geoff Parling continues his return after shoulder surgery with a place in the 23 after playing 20 minutes as a replacement in the win over Wasps.

Director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: "The chase for the top four places is very tight and we've just got to keep picking up points. We haven't got a semi-final spot yet so we're as hungry as ever to get there.

"Quins are in good form, they played very well in their games against Stade Francais and Sale Sharks in the last two weeks, but we've been in good form too and we have to get our own game right going down there."

Form: Harlequins have won three of their last four Aviva Premiership Rugby games and have won their last 7 home games in the tournament since losing 12-22 to Saracens at the Twickenham Stoop in round 4. Leicester Tigers need to win to ensure participation in the play-offs for a tenth successive season. Tigers are unbeaten in their last nine Premiership matches, including seven straight victories. Leicester's only victory in their last five Premiership encounters with Harlequins was 33-16 in last season's Premiership semi-final at Welford Road. The Tigers have lost on their last two visits to the Stoop in all tournaments.

The teams:

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

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Ed Slater (c), 3 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Niall Morris.

Date: Friday, April 18
Venue: The Stoop, Twickenham
Kickoff: 19:45 (local, 18:45 GMT)
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant Referees: Andy Watson, Roy Maybank
TMO: Sean Davey

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