Tuesday 23 January 2018

Quins have been too slow out of the blocks, says Conor O’Shea

Harlequins rugby director Conor O'Shea
Harlequins rugby director Conor O'Shea

Andrew Baldock

HARLEQUINS have started their season "way too slowly", admitted rugby director Conor O'Shea ahead of their first Heineken Cup game tomorrow.

Quins host Pool Four opponents the Scarlets after winning just two of their five Aviva Premiership games so far this term.

"We've had a difficult couple of weeks," O'Shea said. "We've lost the last two matches, so it (the Heineken Cup) has come at a great time for us.

"There is a freshness of the Heineken Cup, playing against teams you know well but don't know intimately. To play Scarlets and then have a trip to Clermont next week will be nice, so there is a real buzz about the group.

"We feel that as a group we have started the season way too slowly, and we want to put that right this weekend."

Northampton and Gloucester are also in action tomorrow, with Saints heading to French champions Castres in Pool One and Gloucester entertaining Pool Six opponents Perpignan after suffering a dismal home defeat against Exeter last time out.

The tournament - likely to be the last as English and French clubs press ahead with plans for an alternative Rugby Champions Cup next term - kicks off on tonight.

And England international fly-half Toby Flood says there is "a burning desire" for heavyweights Leicester to re-establish themselves as kings of Europe.

It is 11 years since Leicester lifted the Heineken Cup, when victory over Munster in Cardiff saw them retain a title they won against all odds by defeating Parisians Stade Francais on home soil the previous season.

But the Tigers could hardly have been handed a tougher opener as they travel to Belfast for a Pool Five appointment with Ulster. Their two previous visits in 2003 and 2012 produced 33-0 and 41-7 defeats, respectively.

"We've had two very bad nights at Ravenhill down the years," Tigers captain Flood said.

"I didn't go to Belfast two seasons ago, but it was very disappointing. They played very well and we were poor. We can't afford for that to happen again.

"There is certainly a burning desire within the squad to reach the final again. It has been a frustrating 11 years waiting to bring the Heineken Cup back to Welford Road after those back-to-back triumphs in 2001 and 2002.

"Last year we had to go to Toulon in the quarter-finals, but we all felt we could have come away with a result there. We are a club that is capable of winning on the road in the big games."

Premiership leaders Saracens also face a Friday-night opener, meeting Pool Three hosts Connacht in Galway, where the province's Heineken scalps include Harlequins and Biarritz.

"We have got to be right mentally and physically. Connacht really step it up in this competition - I know that from my experiences in Ireland," Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said.

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