Irish eye Twickenham turnaround
December 26, 2010
London Irish put up a spirited display against Toulon in France but ultimately slipped to another defeat © Getty Images
London Irish will hope to end their worst run since 2002 when they face Harlequins at Twickenham on Monday.
Irish have slumped to seven successive defeats in all competitions and their loss of form has hit their domestic hopes the most. Having led the standings earlier in the season they are now down to fourth and in danger of slipping out of the play-off places. But they will hope the eapansive turf of Twickenham will suit their express widemen.
Harlequins were boosted during the week with Tom Guest, Joe Marler and James Johnston all committing their futures to the club and recently claimed back-to-back wins over Connacht to keep their Amlin Challenge Cup bid alive. They will be optimistic of maintaining that promising form.
Harlequins - Player to Watch: Ugo Monye has not featured for Quins since September because of injury but he has been cleared to start at Twickenham and it will be fascinating to see how he fares on his return to the starting line-up with the Six Nations looming large on the horizon.
Harlequins - Team News: Monye's return on the left wing is a timely one as Gonzalo Camacho suffered an injury in last weekend's win over Connacht. Tom Guest also picked up a knock in Galway, to his ankle, and that results in a start for Will Skinner in the back-row. Elsewhere, George Robson is recalled to the second-row, while the aforementioned Marler will team up with Joe Gray and Johnston in the front row.
London Irish - Player to Watch: Faan Rautenbach has proven a fine servant for the Exiles since arriving at the Madejski Stadium five years ago and the South African will be hoping to mark his 100th appearance for the club with a stellar performance.
London Irish - Team News: Topsy Ojo returns to the Irish starting XV, taking the place of Jonathan Joseph on the left wing, while George Stowers gets the nod at No.8 ahead of Chris Hala'ufia.
Key Battle: Chris Malone has again been preferred to Ryan Lamb at fly-half for the Exiles and the pressure will be on him to get the better of Nick Evans, one of the classiest and most prolific No.10s in the Premiership. The outcome of his particular head-to-head will be crucial.
Trivia: Quins have only beaten Irish once in their last six meetings - 14-9 at the Madejski stadium in February 2009.
Stats: Irish fly-half Lamb has set-up the most tries this season with five assists but he has also, surprisingly perhaps, kicked the most ball from hand.
"London Irish is a bigger game for us than it is for them. We need this. We need to nail a massive performance. Both sides want to play with ball in hand so it will be a spectacle worthy of the occasion. We're positive about what lies in front of us." - Quins boss Conor O'Shea underlines the importance of Monday's game to his side
"We're looking forward to meeting Harlequins for the first time this season. As local rivals our games always deliver exciting, competitive performances. It should be a great spectacle, playing at Twickenham is always special for our players and supporters alike." - London Irish head coach Toby Booth is anticipating an exciting encounter
Fantasy: Irish's Lamb and Quins' Evans are the most profitable fly-halves in the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game.
Prediction: Irish to end their run of poor form with a strong showing at Twickenham.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jonny Wilkinson is the face of Toulon but whisper it, they might be a better team without him. Paul Eddison examines the case for dropping the talisman
"It does sometimes get tough as you get older, but there's nothing else I'd rather do." Tom Hamilton talks to fly-half Dan Carter
Stingers, a rampaging Fijian and two Dannys looking to be champions of the world - Monday Maul looks at some key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring