Damage limitation not in Harlequins' thoughts

David Llewellyn on a weekend that sees rugby union's Barbarians going to Cardiff
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This time last year Harlequins were worrying about relegation. This time around, with essentially the same personnel, far from contemplating the drop, they are contemplating dropping in on Europe as they head for today's match against Bath at the Rec.

Barring some improbable results in the run-in, a place among the elite will be Quins for the taking and it looks as though they may have the services of Ireland's hooker, Keith Wood, and the Neath and Wales lock, Gareth Llewellyn, when they begin their European campaign. Wood yesterday discussed a move to The Stoop, despite the Irish authorities' recent deal designed to keep their top talent at home.

Llewellyn's move will be subject to Welsh Rugby Union approval. They have said they want assurances from Harlequins that he will be released for all international squad training sessions and Wales matches.

So it is no wonder that Harlequins, who have never beaten Bath in 11 league games, head west in upbeat mood. They are in second place two points behind Bath having scored 455 points, some 34 more than the leaders, and they are talking of winning. The ability has always been there, now there is added steel.

Their success has given the stand-off Paul Challinor a deal of personal satisfaction, because he had to start off in the third XV after missing pre-season training through injury. Oesteopathy sorted things out and when the first choice, David Pears, was struck down by his injury jinx Challinor took his chance. The 26-year-old, who has been accused of being a kicking stand-off in the past, says there is a change of outlook at The Stoop.

"There is confidence," he explains. "Last year I had to kick because it was about the only time we went forward in a match. This year it is different. Thanks to Gareth Allison we are winning a lot of line-out ball so I now have other options. We normally go to Bath with damage limitation in mind. This time we are going there believing we have a chance."

Quins are unchanged from last week which means Chris Sheasby returns from the Hong Kong Sevens - his club were unhappy about his appearance for England in the tournament - to the ignominy of the bench. Bath, in contrast, welcome back sevens men Jon Sleightholme and Adedayo Adebayo. Ben Clarke is on holiday so the Scotland international Eric Peters is recalled.

Leicester, in third place, are still without Dean Richards but they too find room for another Hong Kong Sevens man, Neil Back, for the critical home game against fourth-placed Wasps. The London side have lost Damian Hopley who damaged knee ligaments in Hong Kong and is out for the season, while stand-off Guy Gregory returns on the squad rota system in place of Chris Braithwaite.

London Irish need a victory over Bedford to secure promotion to the First Division while in Wales Cardiff send out a callow side against a Barbarians' XV which includes the former All Black John Gallagher and the veteran Rugby winger Eddie Saunders for a traditional fixture that is expected to attract a 15,000 crowd to the Arms Park. Most of Wales will be concentrating on the league where Neath travel to lowly Abertillery looking to extend their lead.

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