Rugby Union: Harlequins try to adopt mantle of underdogs

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The Independent Online
If the two captains and Dick Best are to be believed the European Cup quarter-final between Leicester and Harlequins at Welford Road today is a battle of the underdogs. Best, the Quins director of rugby, insists: "We are the outsiders." He is echoed by the Quins captain, Jason Leonard, who says: "We are going there as the underdogs."

The Tigers captain, Dean Richards, reckons the two Harlequins are barking up the wrong tree. He is aware that Quins have a superior record at Leicester, having won four of their last seven Courage League and Pilkington Cup matches there, but he said: "I think Jason's comment that they are the underdogs, especially when you look at their present form, is a bit inaccurate."

Richards claims that everything is different now given the additions that have been made to the Harlequin squad from various sources over the summer. "We have played against people in Harlequins shirts before, but not the same people we will be playing tomorrow. And the style they are playing is different.

"There is an unknown element to them this year compared with the Quins sides we have played over the last couple of seasons. The two Llewellyn brothers in the second-row, Laurent Benezech and Keith Wood in the front row and Laurent Cabannes and Bill Davison in the back three make it six out of eight changes in the pack alone."

Neil Back has his second match in the Tigers' back-row following his six-month suspension with Rob Liley being retained ahead of his brother, John, as goal-kicker. Robbie Paul's injury means Will Carling returns to centre and he has lost the goal-kicking role to outside-half Paul Challinor. According to Best the pair are having a private shoot-out to see who is on form but Challinor starts as kicker anyway.

One goal-kicker who is going to miss out is Bath's full-back Jon Callard. He has been dropped in favour of Jason Robinson for the tie at Cardiff, with Mike Catt taking over the kicking duties. Henry Paul, Bath's other Wigan rugby league back, is on the bench.

A crisis at hooker - Graham Dawe (elbow) and Gareth Adams (shoulder) are out, while Neil McCarthy, a recent draftee to England's ever-growing training squad is overlooked - means Gary French turns out for only his ninth first-team match in two and a half seasons with the club.

In the other tie being played today, Dax meet the holders Toulouse in a repeat of last season's French championship semi-final, which the latter won. It does not look too promising for Llanelli in the other quarter- final at Brive tomorrow. The Scarlets lost two pool matches in qualifying, while their opponents were unbeaten.

There is more hope for Northampton, Britain's sole representatives in the secondary competition, the European Conference. They entertain Narbonne, one of seven French sides to reach the last eight. Tim Rodber has recovered from a gash in a leg which needed seven stitches last week. and Saints have Scotland's Gregor Townsend and Ireland's Jonathan Bell and Allen Clarke back.

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