Harlequins boss Mark Evans sends his team into a crunch Zurich Premiership clash against fellow strugglers London Irish tomorrow, admitting: “Every game and every result is important”.
Just five points separate the bottom six clubs, and Quins’ dismal away form suggests they will feature prominently in a congested fight for survival.
Quins have not recorded a Premiership win on the road since March 17, 2001. Of their remaining six games, four are away – against Irish, Leeds, Gloucester and Wasps – while both home fixtures are not exactly bankers either, with both Leicester and Northampton yet to visit The Stoop.
“This is a crucial game for both sides,” said Quins chief executive Evans, looking ahead to an eve-of-St Patrick’s Day fixture that has generated record Irish advance ticket sales of 15,000.
“We always have massive battles against London Irish, and I am sure that Sunday will be no different in front of a near capacity crowd at the Madejski Stadium.
“We all know that it is incredibly tight in the bottom half of the table, with just five points separating six teams, so every game and every result is important.”
Quins make four changes to the side beaten 48-41 by Bristol Shoguns a fortnight ago.
Back-row forward Roy Winters makes his first start of the season after suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon last summer, while prop Ceri Jones, signed on loan from Newport following injuries to Jason Leonard, Laurent Gomez and Bruce Starr, is handed a full debut.
In the second row, Alex Codling’s hamstring injury means a chance for Simon Miall, with Bill Davison replacing Jim Evans alongside him.
Irish recall wing Justin Bishop, props Mike Worsley and Simon Halford, together with flanker Declan Danaher, to their starting line-up. Michael Horak, Neal Hatley, Rob Hardwick and Kieron Dawson drop out.
Like Quins, Saracens are also candidates for bottom place – and potential relegation – so a home win against third-placed Wasps tomorrow is vital.
Wasps though, have won four of their last five Premiership games, and welcome back England quartet Lawrence Dallaglio, Joe Worsley, Josh Lewsey and Simon Shaw. Prop Andy Kershaw replaces calf strain victim Will Green, so features against the team he went on loan to earlier this term.
“Saracens have not had the greatest run lately, but when you possess players such as Tim Horan, Thomas Castaignede, Christian Califano and Richard Hill, then those players can do awesome damage,” Kershaw said.
“They can be a pretty devastating team when they want to be, but considering what we have at Wasps, then I think we will have a bit too much for them.”
Bristol entertain leaders Gloucester tomorrow, knowing that a West Country derby would edge them further towards mid-table safety.
Just as important are events off the field though, where Gloucester have revealed talks about possible redundancies among non-playing staff and Bristol this week launched a campaign to keep top-flight rugby in the city.
The £1 million fund-raising campaign is spearheaded by Shoguns chairman Malcolm Pearce and former club captain Mike Rafter. The target is for 5,000 club memberships to be taken up by supporters and local businesses before the end of April.
“Gareth Chilcott, a true Bristolian, has signed up, as well as Rugby Football Union president Derek Morgan,” said Rafter.
Bottom club Newcastle, meanwhile, expect a season’s-best crowd for the visit of European champions Leicester tomorrow.
Jonny Wilkinson will be back from RBS 6 Nations Championship duty to lead Falcons’ push for a third successive league win, with Wilkinson’s England team-mates Martin Johnson and Neil Back among those expected on parade in Leicester colours.