Easter heads for England duty after helping Quins fly the flag

Harlequins 39 Bayonne 17
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The Independent Online

Nick Easter will join England's senior squad today, en route to training in Portugal, a contented but also a curious man. Easter's content comes from his own form and that of his club, Harlequins being England's only pool qualifier for the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup.

There they will play London Wasps, one of their oldest rivals whom they meet in the LV= Cup this Saturday in the unlikely surroundings of Abu Dhabi. Given that they have a win and a draw against Wasps in the Premiership this season, they will go into a home quarter-final with confidence, though the prize for the winner is a semi-final in either Brive or Munster.

But the No 8's curiosity stems from a desire to discover which additional back-row forwards Martin Johnson, England's manager, will add to his squad and whether he will lead the side against Wales in Cardiff on 4 February, the opening day of the Six Nations Championship.

"It's always nice to leave your club like that," Easter said after victory on Saturday over their Pool One rivals Bayonne in the Challenge Cup. "But you have to carry that form over into England. It's good to have that mix in the season, from one group of coaches and players to another, it keeps you on your toes."

As for succeeding the injured Lewis Moody as captain, Easter keeps his own counsel. He acknowledges the claims of Mike Tindall and Toby Flood. "My main goal is to hit the ground running against Wales," he said.

If he can sustain his form for another year or so, Easter could well find George Lowe joining him in the international arena. Lowe scored two of Harlequins' five tries against Bayonne, tilting the balance sharply after a first half in which his side made more mistakes than at any time in their run of seven successive wins. But the 21-year-old centre did so many other good things that he must attract attention.

Centre – rather than wing – is his position: he says so and so does Nick Evans, the New Zealand fly-half. "All George needs is experience to kick on, perhaps he just needs to work on his leadership, learn to speak up a bit more because people look to him; he's an X-factor player," Evans said.

Harlequins will do well to remember England's proud record in the Challenge Cup – which they have won twice themselves – and that this is the first time since 1997, the second-tier tournament's inaugural season, that only one English club has qualified for the last eight from pool play. It is a shame that yesterday's quarter-final draw paired the two English clubs together (Wasps being one of the three Heineken Cup teams to be given a second chance) but Harlequins will not be thinking that far ahead. They must first negotiate the absence of seven England representatives (with the Six Nations squad and the Saxons) and a growing casualty list.

Scorers: Quins: Tries Evans, Lowe 2, Monye, Smith; Conversions Evans 4; Penalties Evans 2. Bayonne: Try Filipo; Penalties Garcia 4.

Harlequins: T Williams; S Smith, G Lowe (R Clegg, 71), T Casson (G Camacho, 71), U Monye; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson, 63); J Marler (sin bin 60-70; R Buchanan, 76), C Brooker (J Grayu, 52), M Lambert (J Andress, 52), O Kohn (T Vallejos, 59; M Fa'asavalu, 71), G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), W Skinner (Buchanan, 66-70), N Easter.

Bayonne: P Elhorga (capt; J Audy, 41); Y Huget, T Lacroix, S Gerber, J Pietersen; S Fauque (G Ziegler, 66), C Garcia (B Boyet, 49); P Lafond (T Lea'aetoa, 52), D Roumieu (F da Ross, 49), C Baiocco (W Desmaison, 49), R Filipo, A Boutaty (G Bernad, 52), D Haare (T Flavell, 54), R Martin, J Puricelli.

Referee: J Jones (Wales).