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Rugby Union: Can Harlequins Stop the Slide?


As Eddie Jones, England’s coach, begins his preparations for his next Six Nations international against Wales at Twickenham a week on Saturday, attention turns to the action in the Gallagher Premiership this weekend.

The most attractive game should be at the Twickenham Stoop where, with home advantage, Harlequins hope to halt the recent decline in league form which has seen them lose three consecutive matches against Saracens by 19-10, Sale Sharks who beat them 36-14 and Bath who won by 21-17.

Wasps, in sharp contrast, are in good form as head coach Lee Blackett has watched his team put together effective performances which have led to four successive wins against Bath, Exeter, Saracens and leaders Leicester Tigers.

The Coventry-based club have as a result of this successful sequence moved up the table and are now in touching distance of the top four, so as Wasps are ambitious to reach the play-offs, beating the Premiership champions on Saturday would help their cause significantly.

Wasps may be favourites because Harlequins will have England players missing..Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt, Joe Marchant and Joe Marler..therefore, it may be sensible to back Wasps to gain revenge for their 26-16 loss in November.

Wasps will be without England lock Joe Launchbury but should have top class forward Alfie Barbeary available which will strengthen their chances of winning.

Harlequins go into this important game having won eight of their 15 contests; indeed, Wasps have the same record in terms of matches won in the Premiership, so on paper, there’s little to choose between them.

Wasps need to nullify the threat of dangermen Tyrone Green and Cadan Murley, both of them thrilling runners who can smash defences, and in the forwards second row expert, Jack Walker, has won the most lineouts in the league with 161 takes.

Wasps face future without the massive influence of Jimmy Gopperth

As Blackett, whose club are one point behind Quins who’re on 43, looks ahead to this game and those that remain, one major issue that has to be settled is how he can effectively replace the class and experience of centre/fly half Jimmy Gopperth, 38, who will be joining Leicester at the end of this season.

The 38 year old New Zealander, who has scored almost 1200 points for Wasps in seven seasons in more than 140 appearances , will be so hard to replace given his status as a player and team-man.

Although Gopperth is leaving, such is his professionalism he will be highly committed to make sure that Wasps progress further in the Heineken Cup and finish in the top four so they can contest the play-offs.

Going into this Saturday’s match at Harlequins, Wasps will need to exploit all the big game experience that Gopperth offers in terms of managing events and kicking the points when his team have scored tries or when Quins have been penalised.

Harlequins even without their England stars will still play an attacking game and playing in front of their own fans is a big boost, but Wasps are full of confidence now and, having put seven tries past Bath in their last encounter, intend to deliver a repeat performance.