Gloucester set sights on Premiership summit
March 25, 2011
Harlequins' Nick Easter looks for an opening during his side's clash with Gloucester earlier this season © Getty Images
Harlequins are out to keep their fading play-off hopes alive when they tackle in-form Gloucester at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.
Three defeats in their last four Premiership encounters have seen Quins slip to seventh in the table and lose significant ground in the race to secure a post-season berth. In contrast, Gloucester are riding a run of 11 successive victories in all competitions - culminating with their Anglo-Welsh Cup Final triumph over Newcastle last weekend.
Currently in third place and with two games in hand on Leicester and Saracens above them, the Cherry and Whites will have their eye on a home semi-final and will be confident of taking another step towards that goal having accounted for Quins at Kingsholm earlier in the season.
Harlequins - Player to Watch: Nick Easter will want to remind those keen to promote Leicester's Thomas Waldrom straight into the England line-up that he is the current owner of that No.8 shirt for good reason.
Harlequins - Team News: Easter and scrum-half Danny Care both return from England duty and are drafted into the starting line-up. Joe Gray is named at hooker in the place of the injured Matt Cairns while captain George Robson also returns after a hand injury. Care partners fly-half Rory Clegg while Gonzo Camacho is named on the wing in the place of Tom Williams.
Gloucester - Player to Watch: Lock Dave Atwood will continue his quest to reclaim an England shirt in only his second appearance, and first start, since serving a nine-week ban for stamping
Gloucester - Team News: Gloucester ring the changes with No.8 Luke Narraway the only player to retain the same position he had in last Sunday's Cup triumph. Akapusi Qera moves from blindside to openside, with Scotland international Alasdair Strokosch completing the back-row. A completely new front row of Alasdair Dickinson, Scott Lawson and Paul Doran-Jones will pack down supported by a new look second row of Attwood and Will James. The backs are more settled, although Freddie Burns gets a run out at fullback in place of Olly Morgan and Scotland's Rory Lawson starts at scrum-half.
Key Battle: Gloucester captain Narraway has been attracting rave reviews at the back of the Cherry and Whites' scrum, with many urging an England recall. Quins' Nick Easter is currently England's first-choice No.8 - let battle commence.
Trivia: Gloucester have won their last three games against Harlequins but have not won at The Stoop since 2006.
Stats: Quins are unbeated at home in the Premiership since their 20-16 defeat to Northampton on September 11.
"Top four was the target in the Premiership and that now looks beyond us unless there are some mathematical acrobatics and we are now looking at top six." - Quins boss Conor O'Shea appears to give up on the play-offs following their latest Premiership defeat to Newcastle.
"For me the mix is right this year, it really is right. A lot of boys are moving on next year so we have to capitalise on it and we know that as a squad." - Gloucester flanker Andy Hazell urges the side to kick on from their Anglo-Welsh Cup triumph
Fantasy: Gloucester winger Charlie Sharples grabbed a try in his side's victory over Quins at Kingsholm and if you fancy him for a repeat then perhaps he needs to be in your ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game line-up?
Prediction: Gloucester are flying and are unlikely to suffer a Cup Final hangover against a Quins side that appears to have admitted defeat in the race for the play-offs.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery
"England remind me of a PlayStation rugby team," John Mitchell on tactics and the search for a first-choice fly-half ahead of the World Cup
Augustine Pulu will return home with little more than 20 minutes rugby in one month on tour. It is time for more midweek games writes Craig Dowd