Harlequins call for one last push to secure home Heineken Cup quarter-final
O'Shea delighted to progress but knows value of playing next stage at The Stoop
Conor O'Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby, has called on his side to produce one more concerted push to guarantee a home Heineken Cup quarter-final. Quins are one of four sides who have qualified for the knockout stage, along with Saracens, Clermont Auvergne and Toulon. The Londoners went through with a game to spare on Saturday, with their bonus-point 47-8 win over Connacht at the Stoop.
Their final pool game is against Biarritz on Friday and a win there will mean they resume their European campaign in April on home soil.
O'Shea said: "I am delighted, we are almost guaranteed a home quarter-final. We will enjoy the result and have the opportunity of looking forward to that quarter-final at the Stoop on a hard pitch in April."
Harlequins started slowly and were lucky to be 6-3 ahead after 30 minutes. But they got into their stride in the second half as Connacht wilted. O'Shea added: "Connacht came to play rugby; it was tough for long periods especially as we played into a stiff breeze in the first half. The penalty try just before half-time gave us breathing space. We were far more direct in the second half and played some superb rugby."
Jonny Wilkinson, the Toulon fly-half, believes his current side are one of the best he has played in, after their seven-try 45-25 win over Cardiff Blues. The victory put Wilkinson into only his third Heineken Cup quarter- final in a 16-year career.
Wilkinson, who was made captain for the day, said: "We've got to congratulate ourselves for winning against a good team and getting to this stage but there's work to do – this tournament is only going to get harder. I've seen this game for 16 years and I know the guys here are as good as any team I have played with."
Joe Schmidt, head coach of defending champions Leinster, admitted to a touch of regret even after his side mustered a crucial five-try 33-14 win over the Scarlets in Pool Five.
Leinster, who along with either Ulster or Northampton, may scrape into the quarter-finals as the second-placed teams with the most points, had the bonus point secured by the 44th minute of this entertaining clash, with Rob Kearney adding to first-half efforts from Cian Healy, Shane Jennings and man of the match Luke Fitzgerald.
Knowing that qualification for the knock-out stages may come down to the number of tries scored, the highly rated Schmidt felt that his side should have added more than Ian Madigan's fifth try in the final minute.
"There already are [regrets]," he said. "There are at least two more we should have got, one more where I felt there was good space and the ball was knocked down. There is frustration but the reality is we are where we are and this is what we can plan to do and try to execute it."
Rob Baxter insists Exeter will learn from their 46-3 loss to Clermont Auvergne, after their faint hopes of qualifying for the next stage were emphatically extinguished.
The French giants ran in six tries to stretch their own winning run to 54 matches at Stade Marcel Michelin. Exeter trailed 20-3 at the break but put up a brave fight in the third quarter. They dominated both territory and possession but were unable to turn pressure into points before Clermont turned the tide and the floodgates fully opened.
Baxter said: "It's not the big drama some people might think it is. There are some very good teams in the competition and Clermont are certainly one of them.
"We had our moments in the game and we didn't quite see them off. The reality of it is we have come up against a very good side, not only with very good individual players but a team that play a good brand of rugby.
"I haven't got too many points but there are lessons to learn. In the first half we were playing the scoreboard and not what was in front of us."
Exeter face reigning champions Leinster at Sandy Park next Saturday, with the Dubliners in need of a victory to keep their European ambitions alive.
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