Preview: Harlequins v Gloucester

Date published: December 23 2016

Harlequins are without England flanker Chris Robshaw after he pulled out hours before facing Gloucester due to injury.

Joe Marler, who makes his 100th Premiership appearance, is named in a forward pack of Harlequins Academy graduates.

Commenting ahead of the fixture John Kingston, Harlequins Director of Rugby, said: “The coming three matches, against Gloucester, Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks will very much shape our season going forward and it’s absolutely crucial that we take advantage of the two home matches, which includes Big Game 9 on Tuesday.

“Big Game is always an unbelievable occasion. Twickenham is a spectacular stadium to play in and to get over 70,000 in attendance to a club match is seriously impressive.

“Last year’s match was an incredibly exciting one and I’m sure both sides will be doing as best as they can to make the match the occasion which suits the grand nature of Twickenham Stadium.”

Meanwhile, Gloucester make five changes to their starting line-up.

Returning having missed out on the Challenge Cup defeat in La Rochelle last weekend are Billy Twelvetrees, Greig Laidlaw, Paddy McAllister, Mariano Galarza and Ross Moriarty. Josh Hohneck moves from loosehead to tighthead prop while Laidlaw resumes the captaincy. Ben Morgan is ill and replaced at number eight by Gareth Evans.

Amongst the replacements, having made his comeback from injury in Monday’s ‘A’ League game against Bath United, centre Andrew Symons is named in a first team matchday squad for the first time, a timely return given Mark Atkinson suffered a significant hamstring injury in France and will be ruled out for a number of weeks.

It’s the second year in a row that Gloucester have featured in Harlequins’ big occasion, last season’s equivalent resulting in a thrilling 39-39 draw.

As he previewed the game with the local media, director of rugby David Humphreys admitted that three games in a short period will be a big test for the Cherry and Whites.

“We’ve known that this period over Christmas is going to provide some pretty unique challenges in terms of a ten day break into a five day break and then into a six day break.

“It’ll test the depth of our squad and means there won’t be a huge amount of time spent on the training pitch. It’s more about getting ready for Harlequins and then recovering and getting ourselves best prepared physically and mentally for Northampton and Worcester.

“It (Big Game 9) is a wonderful occasion to be part of, something a lot of our players enjoyed last year. We have players with a lot of international experience who have played in big games, so they’ll be looking forward to getting back to Twickenham.

“Last year was a pretty spectacular game with ten tries in total. We were pretty disappointed not to win the game with the lead we had. I’m not sure this year will be a similar game, but will hopefully have a different result.”

Form: All ten of Harlequins matches in Premiership Rugby this season have been won by the home side on the day. Harlequins have lost just one of their last nine visits to Twickenham Stadium: 25-30 to Northampton in “Big Game 7” two years ago today. Harlequins record in “Big Games” at Twickenham is an even won three, drawn two, lost three since the series began in 2008. Gloucester have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since the trip to Sale Sharks in Round 3, whilst they are winless in their last six visits to Twickenham Stadium since they won the Powergen Cup there in April 2003, beating Northampton in the final. Gloucester were unbeaten against Harlequins last season having drawn the “Big Game” at Twickenham 39-all and then won 28-6 at Kingsholm in February. The two clubs have met on one other occasion at HQ for a league game, also ending in a draw 9-all in Division 1 in November 1987.

The teams:

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Danny Care (c), 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 James Chisholm, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 George Merrick, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Will Collier, 19 Stan South, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa

Gloucester: 15 James Hook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paddy McAllister
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Salesi Ma’afu, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Andrew Symons, 23 Henry Purdy

Date: Tuesday, December 27
Venue: Twickenham
Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Simon McConnell, Greg Macdonald
TMO: Stuart Terheege