Harder returns for Quins but Webb Ellis Trophy proves greatest draw

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In a normal world, Harlequins would probably struggle to attract one man and a dog to their Parker Pen Challenge Cup first-round second-leg match against Cetransa El Salvador at The Stoop Memorial Ground today.

But these are not normal times. And although Cetransa are Spanish champions, the reason the tie is a 9,000 sell-out has more to do with what goes on before kick-off than after.

England have just won the Rugby World Cup, and the Webb Ellis Trophy is going to be on display, with supporters being given photo opportunities to be pictured with it before the match.

Quins, who won the first leg 31-18, will have one eye on the other results today as they wait to find out which teams will qualify as the "lucky losers", since they have been drawn to face one of the two in the second round which is to be played over the weekends of 10/11 and 17/18 January.

After three months out with injury, George Harder returns on the wing, allowing Simon Keogh to start at scrum-half for the first time since he joined Quins in the summer.

Chris Bell takes over the No 13 shirt from Josh Taumalolo who picked up a knock to his knee last weekend, while up front Ace Tiatia starts at blindside flanker with Roy Winters moving up to the second row, replacing Jim Evans who drops to the bench.

Iain Balshaw needs a fitness test on a leg injury before a decision can be made on whether to play him in the Zurich premiership leaders' second-leg tie against the Italian side L'Aquila at the Recreation Ground.

The Bath head coach, John Connolly, said yesterday: "We will make a decision on Balsh [Balshaw] tomorrow, after the warm up. He took a nasty hit to the leg last week and is still not 100 per cent right. If he does not make it we will start with Ross Blake on the wing and only use five subs."

Two certainties for the match in which Bath hold a 64-point advantage are youngsters James Hudson and Chris Goodman. Goodman, the teenage No 8, impressed Connolly when he started the first leg last weekend, and the coach said: "He is a very mature footballer for his age and has a good head for the game."

Hudson, the 22-year-old lock, is an England Students international who is studying at the University of Bath. He made a try-scoring debut in the first leg last weekend, but it is his home debut that he is most looking forward to. "It is something that I have dreamed about," he said.

The Newcastle fans, cruelly robbed of the chance to see England World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson in action because of a neck injury, are nevertheless expected to pack into Kingston Park to watch the Falcons add to their 61-point first leg advantage.

Tomorrow, London Irish try to turn around a four-point deficit against Montauban, of France, in contrast to Saracens who beat Roma 45-13.

Comments