Conor O’Shea believes Harlequins can clinch a remarkable comeback and qualify for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup after earning their second successive victory over big-spending Racing Metro.
Quins lost their opening two matches in Pool Four but yesterday’s 17-3 triumph at Twickenham Stoop courtesy of Charlie Walker’s first-half try and three penalties from Nick Evans has revived their ambitions. Clermont Auvergne, who top the group by four points, must now travel to south-west London next month in the group’s pivotal fixture.
“To have lost our first two games but to be right back in it when Clermont come here is fantastic,” said O’Shea, the director of rugby. “We know exactly what we have to do.
“We’ve been written off, but this team likes challenges. Over two weekends we’ve taken nine points out of a possible 10 against a Racing team with a large squad. We were the better team, with the emphasis on team, and that’s what made the big difference.
“It’s a different kettle of fish when you’re playing Clermont, who have been together for such a long time.”
It was also a good weekend for Northampton, who gained revenge for their mauling against Leinster last week by inflicting a first defeat of the competition on the Irish side. Wings George North and Jamie Elliot scored the only tries to leave Saints within four points of Leinster at the top of Pool One.
“It gives a little bit of life to the group. It’s not sort of dead and buried,” said the director of rugby, Jim Mallinder.
“We still got two tough games, but Leinster have got that as well. It gives us hope and it is still great to be in the competition with something to play for and it sets us up well for the next few weeks in the Premiership.”
Saracens are the only English side to lead the way after four games following their 64-3 dismantling of Zebre, although their chances of progressing should come down to the meeting in Toulouse next month. The French side are tied on points with them after beating Connacht 37-9 in Ireland, having surprisingly lost at home last week. Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, believes it is crucial his team take advantage and secure a home quarter-final.
“We need to go and win in Toulouse if we want to top the group,” he said. “But for now we’ll deal with the Premiership as we’ve got three games before then.”
McCall was also full of praise for the England wing, Chris Ashton, after his excellent display yielded a try in the last minute. “I thought he did well in the autumn and he enjoys coming back to the club. We know how good he is,” said McCall.
“He has always been good for us and he was good again today. I think he gets scrutinised more than any other players and people look for small incidents rather than looking at his strengths.
“He gets a different kind of scrutiny than everyone else, which is unfair. He was superb today, he was superb last week and he’s been good for a period of time, and people look to criticise him for small mistakes.”