Evans turns table to usher in feel-good factor at Quins

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The Independent Online

Strange days indeed. Over the last week, some ridiculously self-righteous types at Wasps have discussed taking legal action against the Rugby Football Union because a Premiership referee failed to apply the rules. If clubs went to litigation every time an official made a mistake, the English court system would implode.

Reports in Australia have suggested that George W Bush might take in a World Cup match. As the President is clearly under the impression that America never lose at anything, the sight of the Eagles leaking 50 points to France or Scotland might render him speechless.

But most peculiar of all, Harlequins have won both of their opening League games - a winning streak mind-boggling in its longevity. Last season, they lost their first three matches, leaking almost 30 points per outing; in 2001-02, it took them four attempts to break their duck; in 2000-01, they had won only two from six by mid-September, and did not win again until the end of December. In the Premiership era, Quins have been consistent only in their ineptitude.

There is, however, a feel-good factor percolating its way through old wooden seats and state-of-the-art hospitality suites at the Stoop Memorial Ground. This afternoon, a sell-out crowd will watch the "derby" with London Irish - once genuine neighbours, now a Thames Valley concern - and if the home side make it through against an Exiles team playing significantly better than anticipated, they will most likely top the table for the second consecutive weekend.

All of which shows the value of a sharp, on-the-ball summer recruitment programme. Quins lost players aplenty at the end of last season, from Dan Luger and Nick Greenstock out wide to Keith Wood and Bruce Starr up front. When that happens, it is essential to ensure that the ins outweigh the outs. To that end, Mark Evans went shopping in Ireland and came back with Gavin Duffy, Andy Dunne, Simon Keogh and Ben Willis. The chief executive-cum-coach-cum-everything else also signed George Harder from Leeds, Josh Taumalolo from Bridgend and Mike Worsley from this afternoon's opponents. Right now, he is enjoying a very decent return on his investments.

Taumalolo, crocked during a pre-season match with Saracens, is fit again and makes his Premiership debut, replacing Andy Reay in midfield. The only other change from the side that did a comprehensive job on Rotherham at Millmoor last week concerns the wing, where Rob Jewell steps up for the injured Harder. Quins will miss the aggressive Samoan, who Evans believes has been at the heart of his team's bright start to the campaign, but with Ugo Monye ripping up forests on the other flank, this setback has not denied the Londoners the whole of their cutting edge.

The Irish have also made a couple of changes. Rob Hoadley, unenviably charged with filling the pitch-sized hole created by Brendan Venter's retirement, picked up a knee injury in the win over Gloucester last Sunday and is replaced by Greenstock. Interestingly, there are strong rumours that Kevin Maggs, the Irish international centre, is considering a move from Bath to the Madejski Stadium. If that happens, Venter will not seem quite so irreplaceable. The other alteration is tactical, with Barry Everitt in for Mark Mapletoft at outside-half.

Gloucester, down on their uppers having lost their influential Frenchmen to France and their best Englishmen to England, have James Simpson-Daniel back on the wing for today's match with Saracens at Kingsholm. The richest attacking talent in the country might easily have been included in Clive Woodward's World Cup party, but fitness problems counted against him. Should he mark his return by tearing up the Sarries defence, Woodward may wish he had shown more patience.

Wasps travel to Northampton with more changes than they would care to mention. Phil Greening, Will Green and Richard Birkett are all injured, Rob Howley has been given a break, Mark Denney has lost his midfield place to Ayoola Erinle, and the back row has been reshaped to accommodate John Hart at No 8.