A year ago, it would have been close to unthinkable for Harlequins to rest Chris Robshaw, the England captain and just about the most consistent performer in domestic rugby, for a key Premiership fixture in the wild West Country. Tomorrow night, the reigning champions will attempt to silence a full house at Gloucester without the services of their star turn. Startlingly, Robshaw is not even on the bench.
The decision of Conor O'Shea, the Londoners' rugby director, to give his main man a complete break confirms two things: that Robshaw is not quite as indefatigable as he appears – he looked tired during the painful defeat at Saracens last weekend – and that Quins now have enormous trust in his understudy, the 22-year-old academy product Luke Wallace, whose recent performances have not been lost on England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
Wallace may have been a central figure in the shadow side responsible for the club's latest triumph – Quins won the Anglo-Welsh Cup a little under a fortnight ago – but the responsibility of restoring stability to a league campaign that has started to look a little rocky, is a different matter entirely.
Not that Gloucester are happy with their own recent form. While Quins have made five changes to their starting line-up – George Lowe and Tom Casson form a fresh centre partnership, Rob Buchanan replaces Joe Gray at hooker and Olly Kohn returns to the engine room – the Kingsholm boss Nigel Davies has performed surgery on a similar scale following last weekend's unexpectedly close shave against the bottom club, London Welsh.
"This is a difficult test for us against opponents who have been trailblazers over the last two or three years," said Davies, who needs victory to resuscitate Gloucester's play-off chances and has recalled the centre Henry Trinder, hooker Korree Britton, lock Lua Lokatui and flankers Tom Savge and Akapusi Qera.
Meanwhile, Northampton chairman Leon Barwell has confirmed his club's interest in the services of the Wales wing George North, who is considering leaving Scarlets. "George has to make sure than when he makes his decision, it's the right one," said Barwell, who has already sanctioned significant signings in the England prop Alex Corbisiero and the Samoa scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i. "We're giving him the time and space to do that."