HARLEQUINS vs STADE FRANCAIS
HARLEQUINS scrum-half Danny Care believes his side’s presence in tonight’s Amlin Challenge Cup final completes the club’s rehabilitation following the dark days of the Bloodgate scandal.
The London club were plunged into turmoil following the events of the 2009 Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster in which the use of fake blood capsules to deceive officials resulted in the resignation of director of rugby Dean Richards and a £260,000 fine.
Two years on and a fresh, vibrant young side has emerged under the guidance of Conor O’Shea and Care believes tonight’s showpiece occasion will act as a reward for those fans who stuck by the club while the fallout from the Bloodgate affair threatened to tear it apart.
“Quins is such a historic club and it is a club that should be winning trophies again,” Care told City A.M. “We’d love to do it for ourselves, for the coaches and the fans who have stuck with us through all the turmoil of the last couple of years.
“It is a massive deal for the club to be playing in such a high-profile event after what has gone on. It’s been a tough period but one that has brought us closer together as a team.
“We had to roll our socks up, stop feeling sorry for ourselves. With all the criticism the club was taking it was hard. Being part of such a big occasion is a reward for all the hard work.”
The road to Cardiff, let alone the road to redemption, has been an arduous one and incorporated a defining semi-final win against Munster, who suffered only their second European home defeat in 16 years.
Care was among the try-scorers in the 20-12 win at Thomond Park and the confidence garnered from that victory means a powerful Stade side, which boasts two of his England colleagues James Haskell and Tom Palmer, hold no fears.
Care said: “Going into the game we were written off by everyone really. But we knew if we went down there and played as well as we could do we could beat anyone.
“That self belief was there before the game and then after the first 20 minutes when everything went so well we kind of looked at each other and thought: ‘We’ve got this’.
“It was just great to be involved and to get a win there won’t be something we forget for a long time. Hopefully we can perform to that level again and end the season on a high.”
With the World Cup on the horizon, Care accepts it’s important he is competing at the top of European competition as he attempts to wrestle England’s No9 shirt from Ben Youngs.
“It’s quite scary being considered one of the older guys at Quins now,” said the 24-year-old. “Hopefully that extra experience I have can help in terms of England. I feel that spot is still up for grabs and I want to be starting for my country at the World Cup.”
Alfa Romeo are the official vehicle supplier to Harlequins. Go to www.alfaromeo.co.uk
AMLIN OPTA INDEX HEAD-TO-HEAD: FINALS SPECIAL
CHRIS ROBSHAW V JAMES HASKELL
The Amlin Challenge Cup final brings together two back-rows hoping for a place in England’s World Cup squad, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell (right). Both have proved formidable tacklers, with Quins captain Robshaw having made 59 in Europe this season and Haskell an impressive 64, including 22 in the semi-final against Clermont Auvergne. Robshaw’s defensive displays have made him Quins’ top performing forward in the Amlin Opta Index, while his discipline has seen him concede just two penalties in six appearances.
SEAN O’BRIEN V PHIL DOWSON
Fireworks are expected when Leinster and Northampton’s forwards collide, and none more so than Sean O’Brien and Phil Dowson. Saints man Dowson (left) has accumulated the fourth highest score in the whole Index, thanks to his 64 tackles and 84 carries. However, O’Brien is the leading performer, forward or back, on any team, with 115 carries in which he has beaten 19 defenders, more than anyone else.
The Amlin Opta Index is an ERC-licensed analysis of player performance in the Amlin Challenge Cup and Heineken Cup. To view the full results ahead of this week’s action, head to the news section on ercrugby.com and for more information on the Amlin Opta Index, please go to the statistics section, also on ercrugby.com