Final four relishing semi-final stage
February 6, 2011
Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans offers some instruction during his side's latest victory over the Cardiff Blues © Getty Images
Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea paid tribute to his young stand-ins after they clinched a home semi-final against Newcastle in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Despite the absence of Nick Easter, Danny Care, Ugo Monye, skipper Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Mike Brown and George Robshaw - on international duty with England and the Saxons - Quins overcame a more experienced Cardiff side 23-7 at The Stoop to the delight of their director of rugby.
"I'm really, really proud of them. We had a lot of young fellows out there against an experienced Cardiff side and we trusted the young guys," he said. "We had to defend a lot in the second half but our guys worked their proverbials off to help each other out. But when we turned the ball over we were really sharp."
O'Shea praised the finishing of Sam Smith, Monye's 20-year-old wing stand-in, who grabbed his seventh try in six matches this season when he supported scrum-half Karl Dickson's break. "When you look at the workrate Sam put in to get on the end of that, he probably had a 95-metre run by the time he completed the whole thing - it was outstanding," said the Quins chief.
Dickson was deputising for Danny Care, England's replacement scrum-half in Wales on Friday night, and O'Shea said: "We're really looking to have two of the best scrum-halves, as a pairing, that any club could wish for. It's good for Danny when he's looking from his England hotel that he sees Dicko play like that."
Harlequins are also currently in the Aviva Premiership's play-off zone and through to the quarter-finals of Europe's Amlin Challenge Cup but O'Shea refuses to contemplate the possibility of a treble. "All we care about is setting performance standards. To me, winning everything, winning nothing is immaterial, if the boys put an effort in like they do, that's all they can do for each other. I'm just happy with the way they're going about their work at the moment and it's fun when you play like that," he said.
Gloucester assistant coach Carl Hogg was relishing a home semi-final after his side beat London Irish on Saturday to book their place in the last four. "We knew if we won today it would give us the opportunity to have a semi-final at home. Over the last two years we have been difficult to beat at Kingsholm. We have got a superb support here and we are looking forward to a full house."
Gloucester were 29-3 up at half-time against the Exiles - with a bonus point secured - and looked very good for that lead. "When we had opportunities, we took them. The first half was very pleasing. It would have been nice to kick on in the second half," he said. "We made one or two substitutions and got played a bit out of our structure but pulled it back in the last five or 10 minutes. There was a mixture and variety of tries but the key thing was that we stuck to the script."
Newcastle head coach Alan Tait paid tribute to his side's impact players as the Falcons moved into the semi-finals with a 17-3 home win over Exeter at Kingston Park on Sunday. "We did the hard work in the first half," said Tait. "We knew what the pitch would be like given all the rain and the day it was and the lads who came on in the second half swung the game around for us.
"Having a strong bench made all the difference and when the conditions got even worse in the second half it proved what a difference our impact players made. I was delighted with the first half until the last 30 seconds when we gave away a silly penalty. We did struggle a bit when they went on the pick and drive, but we hung in there and finished well.
"I'm a big believer in match fitness and this will have done us no harm at all with a big Premiership game to come at London Irish and then the Chiefs back here at Kingston Park. I think we're still a couple of matches off peak match fitness because of the lay-off, but that's the first time in three matches we have matched the Chiefs physically and that's given them something to think about for when they come back here in the league."
And Dragons fullback Martyn Thomas said it was "massive" for the region to get to the semi-finals after his two tries helped his side see off the Scarlets 26-9 at Rodney Parade. "We struggled at the start of the season and have had a lot of injuries. Now we look forward to who we have got in the Cup but, more importantly, we have momentum going into the Magners League. Hopefully, we can get some wins and hope to move up the table.
"Conditions played a massive part in the game with a strong wing but we went through our phases and looked to play in their half in the second half. Then basically the tries came. "The Scarlets have a few guys in the Welsh camp and they are a young side but they performed well. Luckily for us, we managed to get the win."
Assistant coach Darren Edwards empathised with their beaten opponents, adding, "Nigel Davies [Scarlets head coach] ought to be proud of his boys. They were a tough nut to crack and gave it everything. They defended really well and they frustrated us. There were never any worries, it was a matter of making sure we stuck to plan, which we did, and, fortunately, you could see the game starting to turn. It really was like a cup game out there and we managed to turn the tide to come out on top."
Anglo-Welsh Cup Semi-Finals:
The semi finals will be played on Friday, March 11 and Sunday, March 13.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker