Aviva Premiership Preview: Harlequins

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: John Kingston and Mark Mapletoft

Captain: Danny Care

Stadium: Twickenham Stoop (Capacity: 14,800)

Last Season: 7th

Prediction: 6th

Harlequins will ultimately be disappointed with last season along with the likes of Bath and Gloucester the Londoners failed to live up to the pre-season hype.

Harlequins have a backbone of proven, international stars with Danny Care, Mike Brown and Nick Evans leading the backs. In the pack there is Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler leading from the front.

ROBSHAW.jpg

Former England captain, Chris Robshaw.

Under Conor O’Shea Harlequins won the league by playing expansive rugby, they like to go wide. John Kingston is likely to keep to that gameplan and they certainly have the personnel to stick to that.

Harlequins lineout is one thing that did go right last season, they have a plethora of hookers all of which have been selected in an England squad, couple that with a group of experienced locks makes their lineout among the most efficient in Europe.

THREE TO WATCH

Jack Clifford

Position: Back Row  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.91m  Weight: 111kg

The openside flanker is exceptional at the breakdown more like a southern hemisphere openside than his predecessor at Harlequins, Chris Robshaw.

He has a scary amount of pace which was on display as he burst to score against Wales back in May at Twickenham. His attacking pace and powerful legs make him a dangerous carrier from the second or third receiver position.

Jamie Roberts

Position: Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 29  Height: 1.93m  Weight: 110kg

The explosive Wales centre bursts open defences with his considerable strength, his upper body strength makes him hard to bring down and this along with an explosive leg drive sees him able to break tackles.

ROBERTS.jpg

Jamie Roberts will be key this season.

Roberts crash ball carrying can suck in defenders opening space for the more speedy players out wide such as Marland Yarde and Tim Visser.

Kyle Sinckler

Position: Prop  Nationality: English  Age: 23  Height: 1.82m  Weight: 122kg

The abrasive, explosive youngster is finally getting recognised by Eddie Jones as an option for England behind Leicester prop, Dan Cole.

Sinckler can be prone to penalties at the scrum and that has long been a weakness for the Harlequins star. This season is surely the one where the 23 year old can start to push on not just for his club but also England.

TRANSFERS

IN (7)

Alofa Alofa (Stade Rochelais, FRA)

Cameron Holenstein (Pau, FRA)

Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps, ENG)

Aaron Morris (Saracens, ENG)

Charlie Mulchrone (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

George Naoupu (Connacht, IRE)

Mark Reddish (Highlanders, NZL)

OUT (6)

Ben Botica (Montpellier Herault, FRA)

Nick Easter (Retired, RET)

Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Released, REL)

Beau Robinson (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Tito Tebladi (Benetton Treviso, ITA)

Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, IRE)

The addition of Jackson is a hugely beneficial signing, he offers a more pragmatic playmaking option to play at fly-half. Charlie Mulchrone improves the depth at scrum-half and with Naoupu at eight Harlequins have recruited well.

JACKSON.jpg

Jackson in action for Wasps.

Nick Easter, a fantastic servant to Harlequins and England. Botica has been a good player for Harlequins and in attack is really important outlet, he may well be the biggest miss.

My Harlequins 23

15 Mike Brown 14 Marland Yarde 13 Joe Marchant 12 Jamie Roberts 11 Tim Visser 10 Nick Evans 9 Danny Care (Captain)

1 Joe Marler 2 Dave Ward 3 Kyle Sinckler 4 Charlie Matthews 5 James Horwill 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 George Naoupu

16 Joe Gray 17 Owen Evans 18 Mark Lambert 19 Netani Talei 20 Luke Wallace 21 Charlie Mulchrone 22 Ruaridh Jackson 23 Alofa Alofa

The play-offs should be a step too far for the Harlequins squad under Kingston, qualification for the Champions Cup is likely.

Advertisements

England Out But Hope On Show

England had a tough World Cup campaign and it finished with flattery against Uruguay as a stale performance saw England win 60-3, a flattering scoreline for the host nation.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England's 10 tries.

Jack Nowell crosses the line for one of England’s 10 tries.

The performance though did have some pleasing elements, for one the performance of Exeter’s playmaker Henry Slade who has been unbelievable for his club and it is a mystery as to how he has been overlooked until England’s final ‘dead rubber’ as it were. Slade’s passing and running game was quite something to behold and outside Ford who finally got his chance once again was good with the ball in hand if he did falter off the tee.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Henry Slade scores for Exeter against Harlequins.

Farrell kicked well as he always does, a masterful display of kicking. Joseph’s introduction saw England change, the midfield now looked sharper and an unbelievable piece of inspiration from the Bath centre set up Watson’s 2nd try against the minnows. Joseph’s pace and feet make him a real threat and it is a shame we did not get to see more of his dazzling skill in this World Cup.

Another player who looked good was the Saracens fullback, Alex Goode, he has had no chances in this World Cup despite a stellar season for the Premiership champions. He added a playmaking option to the midfield already laden with Ford, Farrell and Slade.

England showed some sort of attacking intent and hunger which had not been seen against Wales or Australia. Some flair, bravery and guile, a hunger to win and win well. They looked in control with flowing passing, good running lines and a couple of wonderful tries.

The performance had it been against any of the other top teams in the world would have been a horror show but the glimpses we saw of Ford and Slade combining along with the magic from Watson, Joseph and Nowell may well have been the dawn of a new English backline.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Anthony Watson in action for Bath.

Forget the power based game, England need a team that can attack, so Manu Tuilagi and Luther Burrell are good players. But what would you rather England produced a crash up the middle or scything breaks round the outside? I know what I would rather watch, I may be slightly biased but after witnessing some amazing backs interplay last night I think it’s clear which way England must go following this World Cup’s conclusion and the likely resignation of Lancaster.

The forwards need a complete reshuffle and need a nasty streak, something that other teams fear, they need to emulate the fear factor Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back provided in 2003. England have some of those figures ready to step into the breach.

They need their scavenger, the Toulon exile Armitage, they need to find a way of bringing him into the squad without seeing an exodus from the Premiership. Burgess is a back row and he can be played there England need to address that as well. The back row has been a real point of weakness for the last 4 years.

The coaches all need to go, Lancaster has failed, Rowntree’s scrum has been bullied by Australia, Wales and France, Farrell has been involved in refereeing disputes and there is the obvious nepotism claim (which has been heard loud due to rumours of Ford, Slade and Goode running rings round Barritt and Burgess) and Catt’s bust up with Cipriani leaves him out of the set up.

Rob Andrew and Ian Ritchie also have to call time on their stays at Twickenham, they have to leave and England have to bring in Sir Clive Woodward as a Director of Rugby, he is the only man for the job a sentiment echoed by Dallaglio. England have deep rooted problems that must be sorted out there is a long list of people to shoulder some of the blame but last night we saw a glimpse of a brighter future.

My 33 Man Squad for Six Nations

Props Dan Cole (Leicester), Alex Corbisiero (Northampton), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), David Wilson (Bath)

Hookers Ross Batty (Bath), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton)

Second Rows Dave Attwood (Bath), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Geoff Parling (Exeter)

Flankers Steffon Armitage (Toulon), Dave Ewers (Exeter), Will Fraser, Maro Itoje (both Saracens)

Number Eights Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Ben Morgan (Gloucester)

Scrum-Halves Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Fly-Halves Danny Cipriani (Sale), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath)

Centres Kyle Eastmond, Jonathan Joseph (both Bath), Henry Slade (Exeter), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester)

Wings Matt Banahan (Bath), Jonny May (Gloucester), Christian Wade (Wasps), Anthony Watson (Bath)

Fullbacks Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)

That brings both a balance and some excitement along with some nasty forwards, this is of course if form is the same as last season only time will tell.

Next Up, World Cup

England’s warm-up games ended with a win over Ireland in London, an important win with England opening their World Cup campaign against Fiji in 11 days time.

England have answered loads of questions in their win over Ireland and Lancaster will now have a very clear picture of who will take to the field to play Fiji on 18th September. England dominated the match against Ireland and although they scored 2 tries they could easily have had 2 more had Youngs passed backwards or Farrell had the vision to throw the right pass.

Pool A is most certainly the toughest of the 4 pools, England look sharp and being at Twickenham gives them a huge advantage going into the ‘Group of Death’. Wales are strong and although Rhys Webb is a huge doubt and Halfpenny is out of the World Cup following injuries when they faced Italy they still pose a threat. Australia are always dangerous and their win over the All Blacks a few weeks ago demonstrated just how deadly they can be.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Even Fiji look good and their massive victory over Canada is a sign that they are not a write off and could challenge the big 3 of Pool A. Uruguay are likely to be the whipping boys of the group, they could be the victims of 4 heavy defeats and stand little chance of winning any game.

England look like they could be on the brink of going some way in this 2015 World Cup, maybe even to the final and there is a very real possibility of that happening should they top this tricky pool. The win over Ireland has shone a light on which players must be in that dressing room as the roar of the fans brings Twickenham to life at the start of 7 weeks that will change the face of world rugby in some way.

Jonny May has to be picked on the wing, Watson will start that much is assured but May must get the nod over Nowell. His try against Ireland was wonderful a display of power from the Gloucester flyer sees him surely shoot into the forefront of Lancaster’s mind. The devastation he can cause defences is both delightful and scary at the same time he makes light work of even the best defensive wingers. His try against the All Blacks in November and his performance against Ireland show this.

Mike Brown must remain as fullback despite the efforts of Alex Goode, yes Goode did play well against France but the mercurial Brown has to stay at his best he is among the best fullbacks in the world. The Harlequins star could well be the difference between a win or a loss. He is something special and along with Watson and May could form a worryingly devastating back three.

Tom Wood and Ben Morgan surely will start, Wood must start after his massively impressive game at Twickenham. He is undoubtedly a talented flanker with much in his armoury that England have only scratched the surface of. Morgan proved his fitness and budged his way into the squad ahead of the massive Vunipola who can be deployed as an impact player off the bench. As a Wales back with tired legs you don’t want Vunipola running at you that would scare the living daylights out of any player in that pool bar possibly giant Fijian Nadolo.

Tom Youngs finally answered his critics with a big game, the line out was better if scrappy as was the scrum. He will start but George may well overtake him over the course of the tournament as he gains more caps. The Saracens hooker is looking more like an international hooker with every minute he plays and Bath’s Webber is being edged out the squad rightly so.

The final question was answered overwhelmingly by the Bath maestro Ford. He was sublime, his sumptuous kick to Watson for England’s try was art, it was beautiful I as an avid rugby fan and self proclaimed connoisseur could say that kick was the epitome of fine art, the Michelin star dish of tries. It was something special. Ford has this little bit of pace this silky running and flair filled fun game that just sparks a team to life which was shown by the the way Bath played last season. One point in the game where it showed why Ford should start was when he wasn’t even on the field. Farrell (a good fly-half in his own right) threw a bad (because it was behind him) and poorly judged miss pass to Mike Brown. Had Ford been on the field England would have probably scored he would never dreamed of throwing a miss pass when he could instead exploit the shortage of Irish numbers so Brown could walk over the line.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

England are there they have their answers, they know now who they must pick to make their way to Twickenham in 31st October when (hopefully) England will be playing in their 4th World Cup final.

The race to Twickenham is well and truly on.

My England 23 to face Fiji: 1 J.Marler 2 T.Youngs 3 D.Cole 4 C.Lawes 5 G.Parling 6 T.Wood 7 C.Robshaw (C) 8 B.Morgan
9 B.Youngs 10 G.Ford 11 J.May 12 B.Barritt 13 J.Joseph 14 A.Watson 15 M.Brown

16 J.George 17 M.Vunipola 18 D.Wilson 19 J.Launchbury 20 B.Vunipola
21 R.Wigglesworth 22 O.Farrell 23 A.Goode

Why England Need To Look South

The three best opensides in world rugby right now, David Pocock, François Louw and Richie McCaw, all three of which ply their trade in the Super 15. They are what us here in England would class as a ‘classic’ 7 or ‘southern hemisphere’ openside.

We have a ready made man to join the three best in the world that man is the Toulon flanker, Stefan Armitage who has been one of the rouge et noir’s star players over the past few seasons as they have become European powerhouses. Unfortunately England continue not to pick the flanker due to England’s selection policy of only picking players based in England.

You only have to look at the Premiership though to see that we need a southern hemisphere style 7. The top 4 teams at the moment all have a player in that mould, Calum Clark at Saints, Burger for Saracens, Louw at Bath and Julian Salvi at Leicester, while current England captain and opened Chris Robshaw’s Harlequins languish in 8th. At Harlequins they have another option much like Armitage, Luke Wallace who in November made the breakdown a living hell like Michael Hooper and David Pocock can for opposition.

It may be time for Chris Robshaw to move on, the man has had his day, and yes his commitment to the cause in unquestionable, as a leader, captain and role model he is second to none but as a 7?

The World Cup is just around the corner and Lancaster would be foolish not to select the Harlequins flanker as his captain for this World Cup or would he? With 2 of the finest opensides in the world David Pocock and Sam Warburton lying in wait in the group stage it could be tough for Captain Chris. Pocock is not alone as a great Australian 7 they also have Michael Hooper who has been Australia’s choice as of late due to Pocock’s injury nightmare.

It is high time Lancaster used the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause on selection policy and brought Steffon Armitage into the World Cup squad, he doesn’t have to start the Toulon flanker but if Robshaw is having rings run round him by Pocock or Warburton they will need an alternative and that alternative should be the Toulon openside.

Well Lancaster it’s up to you but England are going to need to adapt and bring in an ‘old school’ 7 at some point whether it’s now or after the World Cup is a question only Lancaster can answer.