PREVIEW – There’s not much in club rugby more exciting than the Heineken Cup play-offs. Well, maybe a play-off involving Marcus Smith and his razzle-dazzle Harlequins. It’s the club’s first knockout game in Europe’s top competition for nine years, facing a Montpellier side who are currently 1st in the Top 14. Despite this, Smith spoke with plenty of positivity after Quins’ victory over London Irish last weekend.
Smith’s reflections on the 6 Nations
Quins had a bye-week just after the 6 Nations, meaning their England internationals could rest for a week. In fact, Harlequins used the opportunity to give everyone a rest, with players unwinding in destinations like Barbados, Tenerife, and in Smith’s case, Dubai. It was no doubt helpful to reset after an intense 6 Nations: “The first few days I used to just reflect, try to relax, and get refocused. In the last few days, I enjoyed myself, and reenergised for this final push”.
The break seemed to work wonders for the Harlequins England contingent. The internationals looked solid on their return against London Irish. Dombrandt continued to be a menace at the breakdown, whilst Marchant executed an exquisite one-handed offload leading to Danny Care’s try.
Smith, meanwhile, got two assists on the board. Smith felt good rocking the famous quartered colours again: “To get out there today in front of a brilliant Quins crowd here in Brentford was special, and to score some good tries as well. All the boys had smiles on their faces”.
For anyone confused about Smith’s claims of a strong “Quins crowd here in Brentford”, it must be noted that it really didn’t feel like an away game for Quins. The noise of Harlequins fans overruled the home support for most of the game, even before the first whistle, with choruses of Mighty Quinn bellowing around West London. The day was perhaps a respite for Smith from the stresses of England duty, but the fly-half insists he has learned plenty from the 6 Nations:
“First and foremost, my mentality around going to these places. You get a lot of stick as an Englishman away in Murrayfield. Maybe I was a bit naive going up there and thinking it’ll be plain sailing. It was a tough test match. And yeah, just how to control myself in big moments and pressure moments, which I’ll try and bring back here. Hopefully in knockout games for Harlequins”.
A tough challenge for Montpellier vs Harlequins
The big games don’t stop coming though, with Smith fully aware of the challenge Quins face against Montpellier: “They’re top of the Top 14, flying high… They’ve got a big forward pack. They’ve got Zach Mercer running the show down there”.
“Now it’s knockout rugby, so if you can’t get up for this week… you’re in the wrong job. I’m sure all the boys will come ready full of ideas, full of energy, and we’ll give it our best show down there”.
Smith insists it’s different from his earlier campaigns in Europe: “We’re in a different place as Quins now. We’ve got much greater ambitions and we don’t want to just take part. We want to win silverware, but it starts next week. We’ve got to fight because Montpellier are a brilliant team and they’re going to throw everything at us”.
“I know it will be the best version of Montpellier next weekend. As a group, we’re excited about that challenge. We’re going to try and take them out of their comfort zone and throw something at them that they’ve never seen before”.
Harlequins Vs Montpellier Player Watch: Hugh Tizard
Under the mass coverage of the 6 Nations, a new star was rising in the Premiership. Hugh Tizard has been a consistent performer for Harlequins, standing at 6’5 and weighing 120kg. Tizard continued to enhance his reputation against London Irish, winning Player of the Match with his industrious carries and tackling. He assisted two tries, including a delicate pop pass to Esterhuizen to send him unobstructed to the try-line.
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Harlequins coach Tabai Matson had this to say about Tizard: “He’s like the old Hilux turbo diesel… H does a lot of the unsung cleaning. He’s done a fantastic job”.
The 21-year-old joins Saracens never season, meaning a scarily athletic partnership with Maro Itoje is on the cards. Maybe one day, it could be a partnership donning England jerseys. Against the monstrous Montpellier pack, Tizard will face one of his biggest challenges yet.
The first leg of the Montpellier vs Harlequins game kicks off at 2:00 p.m. GMT on April 10. It will take place at GGL Stadium in France and will be shown on BT Sport. The second leg of this Round of 16 matchup takes place at Twickenham Stoop. The game will happen at 12:30 p.m. GMT and will be shown live on BT Sport and Channel 4 according to the Harlequins website.
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