Quins and Wasps chase Euro relief
April 7, 2011
Harlequins celebrate victory at The Stoop against Wasps in January © Getty Images
Harlequins and London Wasps will look to put their domestic travails to one side as they chase European success in the all-English Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final at The Stoop on Friday night.
Quins have lost three of their last four Aviva Premiership outings with a thumping win over Gloucester last month a rare high point while an Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final defeat to Newcastle did little to lighten the mood. As a result they will be desperate to return to the kind of form that saw them power into the last eight of this competition. Conor O'Shea's side racked up five wins out of six in the pool stages including an impressive 39-17 win against Bayonne in their last euro outing back in January.
Wasps were left kicking themselves after not qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals with a dramatic final day 21-16 victory over Toulouse not enough to see them progress due to a costly defeat to Glasgow the previous week. The two-time European champions' domestic slide has been more spectacular than their London rivals with six defeats in their last seven Premiership games, including a 17-10 loss to Quins at the Stoop in January. Throw in their injury troubles and the uncertainties and controversies surrounding the coaching staff and it is clear Wasps are in need of a boost.
Harlequins - Player to watch: Second-row George Robson has brought a hard-nosed edge to the Quins pack after his return from injury and he will relish the challenge of tangling with arch-antagonist Simon Shaw.
Harlequins - Team news: Quins' hopes of exploiting a shaky Wasps scrum were dealt a huge blow when loose-head prop Joe Marler was banned for the game following his fight with Marco Ayerza during the game against Leicester at the weekend. Ceri Jones deputises and one other enforced change up-front sees flanker Chris Robshaw absent due to a deep cut suffered to his knee against Tigers, meaning a start for Will Skinner, with Nick Easter taking over from Robshaw as skipper.
Wasps - Player to watch: Ben Jacobs returns to the Wasps midfield after injury and, as one of their few bright sparks this season, he will be hoping to ignite their backline that has looked labourious of late.
Wasps - Team news: Wasps make four changes, two in the pack and two in the backs, with Richard Haughton and Jacobs returning to the wing and centre respectively after injury while Dominic Waldouck misses out after suffering an Achillies injury. Up front Ben Broster replaces Zak Taulafo at prop while there is a first ever European start for young second-row Joe Launchbury. John Hart captains the side.
Key Battle: England scrum-half hopefuls Danny Care and Joe Simpson will be central to their side's hopes of engineering a quick tempo to break down their opponents at the Stoop. Care was in top form against another No.9 rival, Ben Youngs, during Quins's defeat to Leicester while Simpson has struggled behind a faltering Wasps pack recently.
Trivia: Harlequins have twice been crowned Challenge Cup champions - in 2001 and 2004
Stats: Mark van Gisbergen is Wasps third-highest points scorer in Europen rugby behind with 239, behind Kenny Logan and Alex King.
"We want to make sure we capitalise on home advantage and nail the win. We are well aware that it's knockout rugby on Friday night" - Quins head coach John Kingston
"Playing Harlequins is always a huge game for the team and our fans and we're going into this on the back of a good week at the training ground. The players are really up for it and we're hoping we can pull out a big performance and what would be a massive win" - interim director of rugby Leon Holden
Prediction: Quins to heap yet more woe on Wasps as they dominate their opponents at every turn at The Stoop
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September