Harlequins v Northampton, Aviva Premiership semi-final
Care to miss semi-final showdown
May 11, 2012
In-form Quins scrum-half Danny Care will miss Saturday's clash with the Saints at The Stoop © Getty Images
Harlequins have been dealt a blow on the eve of their Aviva Premiership semi-final clash against Northampton with the news that scrum-half Danny Care will miss the game after failing to recover from a shoulder injury.
Care's absence robs him of an opportunity to go head-to-head with England's current first-choice scrum-half, Lee Dickson, less than a month before the Test series begins against South Africa. Karl Dickson will now start for Harlequins, who finished top of the regular season table, in direct opposition to his younger brother. Harlequins are also without wing Ugo Monye, but they do still feature seven of England's touring squad in their starting line-up.
Conor O'Shea's men were top of the Premiership table for 34 weeks, between September 17 and the final round of regular season matches, when they beat Sale at Edgeley Park. But all that did was earn Harlequins a home semi-final.
O'Shea has not needed to remind his men that they have achieved nothing yet. "To be top of the leaderboard from the word go and to take all that pressure is testament to the group they are," O'Shea said. "There was an empty feeling in some ways after the Sale game on Saturday because we know we still face a massive task.
"But you don't expect things to be easy at this stage, do you? We can't wait. If we're clinical and we stop them when they have opportunities we'll win but it's going to be incredibly tight."
There is a perception that the eventual Premiership champions will come from the tie between Leicester and Saracens, two teams with hardened finals experience. But O'Shea is quick to talk up his side's chances.
"I think we've got more strings to our bow than we had 12 months ago," O'Shea said. "Our scrum can be a dominant factor, as opposed to a survival factor.
"Our lineout and maul has become a weapon. We all know the way we want to play is with tempo and I think we can ask more questions of teams that way. It's the way the players enjoy playing it. As a management group we wouldn't put our name to any other style."
Harlequins only suffered four league defeats all season but one of them came to Northampton in January, when they were thumped 24-3 at Franklins Gardens. But O'Shea insists that result will have no bearing on the semi-final.
"We had five games in 16 days which would have tested anybody," he said. "It's irrelevant. We're pretty good when we're on the front foot and we know what this game is about. So do they."
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
"If there was a cross breed of canine called an Underdogdoodle it would win best in show at Crufts." Mark Durden-Smith looks at the Aviva Premiership Final
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel
"We were only five metres away in the last Test of getting that try and with Jonny's inevitable conversion, we'd have won it." Tom Hamilton talks to Lions fullback Matt Perry