The billing by Conor O'Shea of this afternoon's Heineken Cup quarter-final as the biggest game in Harlequins' history was unmissable last week. This is a club which has won three finals on O'Shea's watch – Amlin, Premiership and LV= Cup in that order – and here is their coach elevating a quarter-final above those three?
Fair enough, the LV is warm beer compared to the champagne of the Premiership, where they beat Leicester in the final last season – by a distance the highest peak the club has scaled – and the Amlin is whatever your circumstances deem it to be, but to wrap a quarter-final of any competition at the top of that tree illustrates how nervous O'Shea is about what faces his team this afternoon.
A month ago they entertained Exeter in what turned out to be their third home defeat of the season. That was a wobble. They recovered on paper to beat Sale in the final of the LV but then came another two league defeats back to back, against Saracens (having lost to them at home earlier in the season) and then away to Gloucester who try and play a game similar to Quins except not as clinically. They got it right that day, though, and suddenly O'Shea is looking at a slump in form. And around the corner come a mob whose capitulation in Scotstoun last weekend brought new meaning to the word.
The aggregate is that we have a shouting match about whose need is greater. And this is O'Shea 'bigging it up' to make absolutely sure that not only do his players realise the downside to falling further off the pace, but their supporters do as well. It looks like all concerned will be at fever pitch.
This means Munster will be confrontational and use their cup game rather than the side-to-side stuff. Hopefully this will allow Conor Murray to get into the game. Ireland's scrumhalf has been one of the casualties of Munster's obsession with exploring the five-metre channels and no points in between.
One of the hardest things to defend in rugby is a scrumhalf who can bounce out off the back of second or third phase and get himself outside the second defender. It causes panic. It's something we don't see Murray do when he's wearing green, and it's often out of the question when he's wearing red because he's too busy hurtling across to the far touchline to clear ball from the ruck. Hopefully today will be different.
Harlequins: Mike Brown; Tom Williams, George Lowe, Tom Casson, Ugo Monye; Nick Evans, Danny Care; Joe Marler, Rob Buchanan, James Johnston, Ollie Kohn, George Robson, Maurie Fa'asavalu, Chris Robshaw (c), Nick Easter. Replacements: Joe Gray, Mark Lambert, Will Collier, Charlie Matthews, Tom Guest, Karl Dickson, Ben Botica, Matt Hopper.
Munster: Felix Jones; Denis Hurley, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ronan O'Gara, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Mike Sherry, BJ Botha, Donnacha Ryan, Paul O'Connell (c), Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell, James Coughlan. Replacements: Damien Varley, Wian Du Preez, Stephen Archer, Donncha O'Callaghan, Patrick Butler, Cathal Sheridan, Ian Keatley, Ivan Dineen.
Referee: J Garces (Fra)
Harlequins v Munster,
Sky Sports 2, 2.0