Wasps feeling the sting of ‘hurtful’ season

ENGLAND centre Riki Flutey admits Wasps are “hurting” ahead of tonight’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against London rivals Harlequins.

Flutey and company are experiencing, by their own high standards, a dismal season. Wasps currently lie eighth in the Aviva Premiership with no hope of claiming a title play-off place, while their Heineken Cup campaign ended through a pool stage exit almost three months ago. Only the Challenge Cup remains for Flutey and company to salvage something this term, with the tournament winners claiming silverware and prized Heineken qualification.

“It is going to be a huge match and a possible avenue to qualify for next season’s Heineken Cup,” he said, ahead of the Twickenham Stoop encounter. “We are hurting after our last couple of defeats, and there is a short turnaround for us after playing last Sunday, but we have to put that behind us and concentrate on a hugely-important tie. That means we have to cut out the penalties and turnovers we gave away against London Irish. If you give any team around 15 of those a match, you are going to struggle to win. If we can do that, we are confident we can beat anyone.”

Current form, though, suggests a Quins win, plus the fact they have beaten Wasps twice and drawn with them once this season. A last-four encounter away to Brive or Munster later this month looms for the winners.

Quins head coach John Kingston said: “When you look at the quality of the teams involved, it is far from a subsidiary competition. It is a very big competition and there are some very big sides left in it.

“Wasps are a very stubborn group and work hard for each other. They have had their ups and downs over recent weeks, but what you know about Wasps is that they always give you a tough match.We want to make sure we capitalise on home advantage and nail the win. We are well aware that it’s knockout rugby on Friday night.”

Meanwhile Stade Français are trying to save their season via the Amlin Challenge Cup, starting with tonight’s quarter-final against Montpellier at the Stade Charlety in Paris. Already out of the running for a place in the Top 14 play-offs and hence a spot in next season’s Heineken Cup, the Parisians’ only hope of making it back into Europe’s top flight is by winning the Challenge Cup. The task is not an easy one as qualifying for the semi-finals requires victory over high-flying Montpellier, against whom they lost 29-23 in the Top 14 a fortnight ago.

But Montpol will not be travelling with the same team, as their decision not to register their best players at the beginning of the season has come back to haunt them. While Stade Français can line-up a team full of internationals, the visitors will be without François Trinh-Duc, Julien Tomas and Fulgence Ouedraogo, amongst others.

HARLEQUINS: M Brown, G Camacho, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye, N Evans, D Care; C Jones, J Gray, J Andress, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa’asavalu, W Skinner, N Easter (c).

Replacements: C Brooker, M Lambert, J Johnston, P Browne, T Vallejos, D Moore, R Clegg, T Williams.

LONDON WASPS: M van Gisbergen, R Haughton, B Jacobs, R Flutey, D Lemi, D Walder, J Simpson; T Payne, R Webber, B Broster, S Shaw, J Launchbury, J Hart (c), D Smith, A Powell.

Replacements: T Lindsay, C Beech, Z Taulafo, J Cannon, S Betsen, N Berry, C Wade, S Jewell

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