The European powers-that-be prematurely pronounced Harlequins as being out of the Heineken Cup on Saturday evening, after the multi-coloured ones’ 16-13 home loss to Clermont Auvergne.
Perhaps all the politicking about the future of the event has muddled a few minds. True, Quins are a very long-odds bet to maintain an interest beyond this week’s final round of pool matches – they need a bonus-point win away to the Scarlets on Sunday on top of Saracens losing at home to Connacht the day before, just for starters – but we should at least see those matches played out before jumping to conclusions.
The exasperation for Harlequins’ No 8 Nick Easter was that qualification for the quarter-finals would have been a great deal more attainable if his team hadn’t let slip a 13-3 half-time lead against the French league leaders. It leaves Quins with a more realistic goal in Llanelli of securing one of the three places for clubs to drop into the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup.
Easter played in the Quins side that won the Challenge Cup in Cardiff in 2011 and they would like a repeat, having also won in 2001 and 2004.
“We’ve been steadily improving, but we’re not firing on all cylinders and we’ve got to continue getting better,” said Easter.
Danny Care, the Harlequins scrum-half, will have an injury to his left ankle assessed today but he is unlikely to feature in Llanelli, after which he is due to join the England squad preparing to meet France on 1 February. Easter is not in the England squad, and instead will have a week’s warm-weather conditioning in Abu Dhabi next month.
Care’s foot buckled while he was chasing a loose ball with team-mate Ugo Monye and Clermont’s Aurélien Rougerie. “He was a bit ginger when he came off,” said Easter, whose team were leading 13-8 at the time, having just conceded a 46th-minute try to the predatory Napolioni Nalaga after a wicked bounce left Quins’ England full-back Mike Brown flat-footed.
In the first half, Care brilliantly flipped the ball one-handed behind his back when it looked impossible to prevent it going out to make a try for Matt Hopper. “Magic hands,” said Easter.
Sitiveni Sivivatu’s try on 70 minutes levelled the scores after a penalty miss by Nick Evans when Quins were in reach of the win coupled with denying Clermont a bonus point that would have given the home team a great chance of progressing. Brock James’s second penalty for Clermont concluded the scoring.
Clermont host Racing Métro on Sunday with a home quarter-final to shoot for.
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