Weekend Preview: Coaches face test of cool as European tensions rise

 

If some of the leading referees in the British Isles are currently feeling a strange burning sensation somewhere in the region of the tympanic membrane – the eardrum, in layman's terms – they had better prepare themselves for a conflagration.

When the Harlequins director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, let rip at officialdom following last weekend's Premiership match at London Welsh, he did so from a position of top-of-the-table security. Now that Heineken Cup knock-out places are at stake and directors of rugby are feeling highly insecure, the language could become very ripe indeed.

Even though Quins have one meaty size 12 in the quarter-finals already, O'Shea will not be wholly comfortable with his European lot until this afternoon's business with Connacht is behind him. The English champions have had their share of fun and games with the weakest, but perhaps most cussed, of Ireland's provincial sides and while it is next to impossible to imagine them failing to qualify, they could easily land themselves with an unnecessarily difficult last-eight tie by failing to finish what they started back in October with a fine 40-point win over Biarritz.

Yet by comparison with Mark McCall of Saracens and Richard Cockerill of Leicester, the urbane O'Shea – a man very much at ease with the rugby establishment, which probably explains Twickenham's reluctance to throw the book at him for speaking out of turn – is feeling laid-back to the point of horizontalism.

Both of his fellow coaches badly need a result away from home this weekend, and if they catch the merest whiff of a referee getting it wrong at scrum and breakdown, they will be sorely tempted to "go off on one", as the jargon has it.

Ultra-wealthy Saracens play the ultra-wealthy Parisians of Racing Metro in Nantes – please, don't ask why – and if they draw a blank, they will leave themselves prey to Munster, who enjoy nothing better than picking over the bones of English carrion.

The men from Limerick are third in the table as things stand, but they will expect to take a minimum of nine points from their remaining matches and finish on 20. Should Sarries fail to take anything from their entanglement with Juan Martin Hernandez and company, 19 will be their limit.

Hence the Londoners' decision to don the full metal jacket, ready for a proper scrap against a team with ambitions, albeit vague ones, of qualifying themselves. The England midfielders, Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell, ruthless defenders both, will start today's game, as will the rough-and-ready Test lock Mouritz Botha and two highly destructive flankers in Kelly Brown and the fast-improving young breakaway Will Fraser.

As for Leicester, their trip to Ospreys tomorrow has a strong whiff of gunpowder about it. Steve Tandy, head coach of the Welsh region, has cranked things up by announcing that far from being alarmed by the raw power of the Midlanders' pack in general and their front-row resources in particular, he and his team are more than happy to engage them in a set-piece struggle.

To that end, he has picked the Welsh international props Ryan Bevington and Adam Jones in his starting formation, supplemented on the bench by another Red Dragon practitioner in Duncan Jones and an All Black tight head in Campbell Johnstone.

Leicester won the scrummaging honours when the two sides met at Welford Road three months ago and they have continued to throw their weight around ever since: not for nothing does the unusual name "Penalty Try" appear at the head of their scoring list for the season.

But the Ospreys, who have a long and rather snarly history with England's biggest club, felt they were treated harshly in that first game – yes, by the referee – and feel ready to right those wrongs.

"Leicester don't come up against a scrum like ours every week," Tandy said, "so the set-piece ain't no concern for us. We have four props who can put in a huge shift, so why should we worry about it? There's been an edge about us throughout our preparations for this game. We're in a very positive frame of mind."

All things considered, then, there is only one remaining task: to wish John Lacey, the man with the whistle tomorrow, the very best of luck.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before