Judgement day is fast approaching for clubs vying to finish in the Premiership’s top six and qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup. It’s delicately poised and Friday’s showdown with leaders Wasps is a massive moment for Harlequins.
I just cannot see the three sides who are competing for that sixth spot – Northampton, Quins and Gloucester – all winning this weekend. I believe Northampton will lose at Exeter and Gloucester will get turned over by play-off chasing Bath.
Northampton need top-flight European rugby and they are in pole position for sixth place currently, sitting a point clear of Quins and two ahead of Gloucester.
But Saints are a side that should be really disappointed with their showing this season. For the amount of money they spend and the quality of player they have in their team, they should be performing much better.
France back-row forward Louis Picamoles has pretty much carried that side for large parts of the season and they’ve relied heavily on moments of magic from George North.
If they are going to beat Exeter, those form players need to put their hands up, but I just cannot see them overturning such a well-drilled outfit as Rob Baxter’s Chiefs.
If Gloucester, who are up against Stade Francais in the final of the European Challenge Cup next month, do lose at Bath, then with Northampton hosting Quins next weekend, that would realistically put them out of the running.
The only match involving the trio of hopefuls that I cannot call with any certainty is Quins at home to Wasps. While I would expect Wasps to win, Quins have a genuine chance of clawing their way back into the top six at The Stoop. If they mess it up, however, it will be hard to make amends.
In order for them to challenge Dai Young’s side, Quins desperately need their key decision-makers Danny Care, Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown to really stand tall and show what they’re about.
Care is England’s back-up scrum-half and deep down I’m sure he would have hoped that his club form might see him through British and Irish Lions selection and earn him a place on the plane to New Zealand.
There is a wider point to be made about all three of those players and indeed Wasps flanker James Haskell when looking through the prism of Lions selection.
The four of them were overlooked by head coach Warren Gatland but now is the time for them to make sure they’re training and playing as hard as ever, as if they’re going on the tour.
One thing which is almost certain to happen between now and the end of the season, and during the tour itself, is injuries. The likes of Robshaw, Haskell and Brown will want to show Gatland that he’s erred by not picking them, and put themselves forward if injuries do strike.
Incidentally, a player who really excites me is Quins’ Joe Marchant. Eddie Jones has spoken enthusiastically about him in recent months and I think he is class – an England centre in the making.
The 20-year-old will want to show his quality against England’s Elliot Daly, who is also a travelling Lion, ton Friday. It would be a massive statement if he gets the better of him.