Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Harlequins v Leicester Tigers | Friday 19 February | The Stoop, Twickenham | 21:45
With Super Rugby only seven days away and the Six Nations taking a break this weekend, rugby fans will enter somewhat of a twilight zone this week. Fret not fans of the oval-balled game, as there’s still the Aviva Premiership to see us through these lean times.
The first match of the weekend will see the fifth-placed Harlequins host the third-placed Leicester Tigers in what’s sure to be a hotly contested fixture.
To Win (80 Mins)
Quins will come into this one off the back of a 28-6 mauling at the hands of Gloucester. While the result itself wasn’t the biggest upset of the weekend - Wasps took that honour with their 64-23 demolition job over Saries last Sunday – the winning margin was. A 22 point victory margin in the Aviva Premiership is equivalent to a 40 point winning margin in Super Rugby and when you consider how evenly matched these two sides were, you'd have expected a much tighter affair.
Quins will have to lift their game dramatically this coming weekend as they are taking on a Leicester side who will be gunning to emulate their footballing counterparts in the coming weeks and move to the top of the Premiership log.
They will have to overcome the Tigers without talisman, Mike Brown. The counter-attacking genius has been on national duty since the Six Nations kicked off three weeks ago. His absence has coincided with his side's poor run of form that has seen them lose their last three fixtures. Two of the aforementioned losses came against relegation candidates Newcastle and a Northampton outfit that was missing a plethora of their key players.
Brown isn’t the only Harlequin away with his national side. Forwards Chris Robshaw, Joe Maller, and Jack Clifford are all part of Eddie Jones’ Six Nations squad, as is influential scrumhalf Danny Care.
These five players have been pivotal for Quins this season. Their absence has left some massive boots to fill and their understudies currently seem to be a few sizes too small. They do still possess a few quality players within their ranks, however, with the likes of winger Marland Yarde, flanker Luke Wallace, and winger Tim Visser, all overlooked by their national sides. They also have former All Black, Nick Evans, and former Wallaby James Horwill available.
The men from the Southern Hemisphere are likely to play key roles for Quins this weekend. Evans’ has the ability to dictate the tempo of a game with his deft kicks and brilliant decision making, while Horwill’s lineout prowess will help his team establish a foothold in the game, which is going to be crucial as they’re likely to be dominated at scrum time by a fierce looking Leicester front row.
Have Newcastle turned a corner or are teams underestimating them? This is the question I’m left to ask after Leicester went down by 26 points to 14 at Kingston Park last Friday evening. The Tigers came into the game as strong favourites but handling errors and poor decision-making saw them end up on the wrong side of the scoreline. While the defeat hasn’t seen them drop on the league table it did allow the second-placed Exeter Chiefs to pull further away from the Tigers on the log.
That embarrassing loss may not have been the worst thing to happen to this Leicester side. Aaron Maugers’ men have struggled to get out of second gear this season. They look like they are capable of so much more than they are currently producing. The former Canterbury Crusader will have not been pleased with the manner of last weekend’s defeat, and I expect his team got a real tongue-lashing last weekend.
If Mauger has managed to get through to his charges, then I think we may be set to witness a clinical display from Tigers this coming weekend. They have a fearsome pack that will be targeting a beleaguered Quins scrum. Their back three also exudes class and flair, with former Melbourne Rebel Telusa Veaniu at full back, the mercurial Peter Betham donning the number 14 Jumper, and Argentine veteran Gonzalo Camcho on the other wing. If given space, these three men are capable of delivering devastating counter attacks that leave opposition sides dazed and confused.
Verdict: Leicester 8/10
The Tigers pack should be able to dominate their opponents at scrum time, which will help lay an ideal platform for their backs to work off. My money is on Leicester’s setpiece dominance seeing them to the win.
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