Fit-again imports can help Quins go from lean to mean

Weekend Preview

Harlequins v Gloucester

This week's England selection hardly reflected the fact that Harlequins, front-runners in all directions since the start of the season, are in the middle of a sticky patch: four players in the Six Nations party, another five in the second-string squad... not since the early 1990s, when the age-old city slicker image still had some substance to it, have the Londoners played such a strong hand representatively. But they are going through a lean spell all the same, even if it is the kind of lean spell for which Newcastle or Wasps would happily kill.

Quins' wonderful victory in Toulouse before Christmas breathed fresh life into their European campaign and victory in the all-Premiership contest at the Stoop this evening would leave them on the brink of a quarter-final place.

Click here for the full graphic of the Heineken Cup standings and fixtures.

With their most effective foreign imports, the All Black outside-half Nick Evans and the Samoan flanker Maurie Fa'asavalu, back from injury, they will be close to full strength, although the in-form lock George Robson is short of fitness and sits this one out.

Gloucester still have an interest: not much of one, agreed, but enough to keep them honest. They travel full of intent, with their own Samoan, the fitfully brilliant Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, back in midfield. Sadly for Olly Morgan, the most orthopaedically challenged full-back in English rugby, impending knee surgery makes him a non-starter.

Saracens v Biarritz

Saracens are the best placed of a struggling English contingent, in that they lead their pool, but having had a gratifying week on the Six Nations selection front – four of tomorrow's starting back division are in contention for Calcutta Cup duty in three weeks' time – they are profoundly aware that tomorrow's game could go wrong in a big way.

The Basques have had a grisly time of it in domestic competition and were beaten by the Italians of Treviso in the third round of this tournament, but the return of arch-strategist Dimitri Yachvili from injury has sparked a resurgence.

By way of emphasising the point, they have players as good as Benoît Baby, Sylvain Marconnet and the extraordinary Imanol Harinordoquy on the bench.

London Irish v Cardiff Blues

Steven Shingler, the player at the centre of the knottiest eligibility row since the dark days of "Grannygate", might have started this last-chance match for London Irish had he not been dragged through the mill by the Scots (who want him for the Six Nations), the Welsh (who insist he's theirs) and the International Rugby Board (which agrees with Wales but is open to persuasion).

As it is, he will be among the replacements for a game the Exiles must win – and win well – if they are to stay in the competition.

This is a big ask, for Irish have made the campaign infinitely more difficult than it should have been. The Blues, meanwhile, have a quarter-final spot in their sights and cross the Severn Bridge with strength in all areas, from Leigh Halfpenny, Gavin Henson and Lloyd Williams in the backs to Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies and Sam Warburton up front.

Scarlets v Northampton

Ben Morgan fully expected to have the you-know-what rinsed out of him by his Llanelli-based clubmates after pledging his international future to England rather than Wales and he has not been disappointed. He will, however, start at No 8 this afternoon as the regional side attempt to take a significant step towards the knockout phase and kill off Northampton in the process.

Most of the big guns will be on view with George North, Scott Williams, Jon Davies and Rhys Priestland starting behind the scrum, hoping to be spoon-fed quality attacking ball by the new red-rose hotshot.

The Midlanders travel without England's captain-elect, Tom Wood, and the influential scrum-half Lee Dickson, but they are bang in form and well capable of avenging their defeat in the first of these meetings back in November.

Montpellier v Bath

The Python team would call this an ex-match before kick-off, for it is already as dead as that celebrated Norwegian Blue of theirs.

Bath look stronger than the Frenchmen, despite the absence of the injured World Cup-winning stand-off Stephen Donald, but does it matter? Not a jot.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam