Easter rises again to inspire England calls

Harlequins 40 Biarritz 13

If a bandwagon is rolling in support of Nick Easter's recall to the England squad, Iain Balshaw was happy to jump aboard. The former England full-back suffered with the rest of an under-strength and out-of-form Biarritz team – three tries and 27 points to nil conceded in the second half, as Harlequins gained the maximum return from their opening match in Heineken Cup Pool Three with a 40-13 win – then praised both Easter, the Quins No 8 who is not in the England coach Stuart Lancaster's plans, and the scrum-half Danny Care, who is.

Balshaw, 33, played with Easter for England and witnessed Care's emergence first-hand when they were together at Leeds from 2004 to 2006. "For me Danny is the No 1 scrum-half in the UK," said Balshaw. "The more he plays for England, the better he'll get. The thing about him is just his pace; he's very hard to contain. And obviously there's The Minty [Easter's nickname]. Everyone thinks he just lumbers forward but he's a powerful bloke. He's got very good handling skills and he makes things happen. There's a lot of players now who just crash the ball up. He reads the game very well. You've got Mike Brown at 15, Danny at nine, the eight's playing well. Harlequins and England are in a very good place at the moment."

The next place for Quins is Galway on Saturday, to meet Connacht. "20 January, 9.45," Conor O'Shea, Harlequins' director of rugby, said, remembering the painful date and time when the same opponents buried his team's Heineken Cup hopes at the same venue last season. Quins, English champions in the meantime, will return without their most highly-paid asset, Nick Evans. The former All Black fly-half was counter-attacking when he was tackled by the Biarritz No 8, Talalelei Gray, and all the force was channelled into a twist of Evans's left ankle. The initial guess was of "weeks not months" out with ligament damage.

Joe Gray, Quins' England prospect of a hooker, is already out for "three to eight weeks" with a slight tear in the abdomen, O'Shea said. Chris Robshaw had ice on his shin at the end and James Johnston needed treatment to his neck and shoulder area.

Evans's replacement, Ben Botica, kicked 18 points behind a gradually dominant pack. The 23-year-old son of the All Black and rugby league great Frano joined Quins in the summer after unfulfilling stints in France with Biarritz's Under-21s and second division Périgueux. "It will be good if I get an opportunity to start [in Connacht]," Botica said. "My old man calls me regularly and he says that when I get that opportunity to take it with both hands."

Harlequins: Tries Care, Buchanan, Turner-Hall, Stegmann; Conversions Evans, Botica 3; Penalties Botica 4.

Biarritz: Try Heguy; Con Peyrelongue; Pens Peyrelongue 2.

Harlequins: Brown; Williams, Hopper, Turner-Hall, Monye (Stegmann, 61); Evans (Boticza, 17), Care; Marler (Lambert, 76), Buchanan, Johnston (Collier, 77), Kohn, Robson, Fa'asavalu (Guest, 56), Robshaw (capt, Ward, 76), Easter.

Biarritz: Balshaw; Ngwenya, Haylett-Petty (Traille, 64), Burotu (Gimenez, 54), Brew; Peyrelongue, Lesgourgues; Barcella (Blauuw, 59), Heguy, Gomez Kodela (Synaeghel, 70), Lund, Dubarry, (Taele, 49), Lund (capt), Lauret, Gray (Guyot, 35).

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).


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