Quins' goal is to draw first blood

London club's desire to get off to a winning start dented by Rush's speedy recovery
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The Independent Online

Blues v Harlequins

(Heineken Cup Pool 5, Today 1.35pm)

Harlequins' first match in Europe since the infamous "Bloodgate" incident in last season's quarter-final against Leinster and the baiting will be obvious. However, it is the remarkable recovery from an all-too-real injury which may blight the English aristocrats in Cardiff today.

When, two weeks ago, Xavier Rush dislocated a finger so badly it required surgery the Blues No 8, was given no chance of beginning the Heineken campaign for last year's beaten semi-finalists. However, the former All Black is as tough as they come and yesterday was passed fit. "It's great news," said a beaming coach David Young, who with Jamie Roberts, the Lions centre, and Ben Blair also recovered, has plenty of reasons to be positive.

That has not been the case during a dreadful start to the season, with just one win out of five. Indeed, before looking at an opposing XV which can outrageously leave out the young flyer Leigh Halfpenny, Harlequins must have been fancying their chances after their first win of the season.

Maybe they still do, as the Blues will still field anything but a settled half-back partnership in Richie Rees and Sam Norton-Knight and with master-scavenger Martyn Williams still sidelined there could be opportunity. Plenty may rest on the openside shoulders of Quins captain Will Skinner, together with fellow backrowers, Tom Guest and Chris Robshaw, as well as the returning Samoan scrum-half Steven So'oialo. All may be required to spill some real claret for the Quins' cause.

Northampton v Munster

(Pool 1, 6pm)

The Saints, returning to the competition after a two-year exile, will be wise not to take much notice of Munster's 30-0 trouncing at Leinster last weekend. They are a different mouth-foaming animal in the Heineken Cup. But then, Northampton can boast their own European pedigree as all the supporters who remember the 2000 final will no doubt be reminding the Red Army. Sold out for weeks, Franklin's Gardens will be expectant of another Munster humbling, although they better settle down for one almighty arm wrestle. The Irishmen have lost their influential prop John Hayes and may be vulnerable in the scrum. But everywhere else – from Jean De Villiers, to Ronan O'Gara, to David Wallace, to Paul O'Connell – their quality screams out. Northampton pride themselves on doing everything well and, at the very least they will have to tonight.

Glasgow v Biarritz

(Pool 2, 3.45pm)

Glasgow lost Chris Cusiter to a flu bug yesterday for this encounter with the side currently third in the French championship. Sean Lineen will not be too distraught as Colin McGregor was impressive in the eye-catching win in Cardiff last week. In their mission to make the knockout stages for the first time, Glasgow were desperate to land the home opener. But do they have what it takes to see off a squad including Dimitri Yachvilli, Damien Traille and England's Iain Balshaw? If they are on an "on day" Biarritz are one of the best sides in the competition.

Scarlets v Brive

(Pool 6, 3pm)

How pleased the Llanelli faithful will be to see Stephen Jones back and recuperated from his Lions exertions and at the helm as they try to beat the former champions. With London Irish and reigning holders Leinster in their group this is a must-win match and the No 10's influence could well be pivotal. Incredibly, this will be Brive's first Heineken adventure since 1998 and led by the former Scarlet Alix Popham they will be big and uncompromising up front, while in behind they have some familiar names, particularly Andy Goode and Jamie Noon. The two Englishmen will doubtlessly help get the crowd going.

Stade Français v Edinburgh

(Pool 4, 1.35pm)

What a place to travel to open up your European campaign. The respective budgets say it all. Stade, £20m, Edinburgh £3m. James Haskell declares he is in the form of his life since joining the Parisian giants and also claims he has to be – just to make it into the starting XV. Despite having a so-so start to the season, which has seen the coaching staff replaced, their squad is full of class. Edinburgh, however, are confident of making it uncomfortabl e for the Stade Jean-Bouin crowd and with Chris Paterson, Ross Ford and Ben Cairns back have every right to be. However, their defence did look susceptible at the Ospreys last week.

Tomorrow: Pool 3: Leicester v Ospreys (12.45) Pool 5: Toulouse v Sale (3.0)

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