x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Games don't come tougher than Wasps, says Harlequins flanker Skinner

The Harlequins captain says his team always up their game when they play London Wasps and the statistics show the worked twice as hard when the two sides met earlier this month.

Andy Powell, centre, the Wasps forward, takes on the Harlequins defence during an Aviva Premiership match earlier this month.
Andy Powell, centre, the Wasps forward, takes on the Harlequins defence during an Aviva Premiership match earlier this month.

ABU DHABI // Will Skinner, the Harlequins openside flanker, worked as hard as he has ever done this season to help his club to get the better of their arch London rivals Wasps at Twickenham Stoop earlier this month.

The English forward is not expecting life to be any easier when he and his teammates take the field at the new venue in the grounds of the Emirates Palace hotel for a rematch between two of the most famous clubs in the game.

"This is going to be a full-on battle," said Skinner in advance of Sunday's LV Cup match which has been moved from the wintry surroundings of Wasps' home at Adams Park in High Wycombe to the ideal climate of a UAE January.

"There is no such thing nowadays as a friendly between Premiership clubs - especially two long standing rivals like us and Wasps," Skinner added.

"When we beat them at home it was one of the most physical games we have had all season. We wear these GPS units that check how far we've run and the impact that we've had during the match. We worked twice as hard as normal in that match."

That 17-10 victory was ground out in a battle of attrition between the packs - Quins shading the first half, Wasps having the better of the second - and Skinner warned that it might turn out the same way again on Sunday.

"Obviously the conditions are going to be considerably more in favour of running rugby," Skinner said. "The pitch when we played Wasps last time was quite heavy.

"We want to put on a good show and show the people of Abu Dhabi what Harlequins are capable of. We pride ourselves on our open play and our ability to off-load.

"But the overall objective is to keep our winning run going and if it has to be done through keeping it tight then that's what we'll do."

That winning run Skinner referred to began after Saracens, another of the London giants, made a successful raid on the Stoop on December 13.

Since then Mark Mapletoft, the Quins coach, has guided his team through seven consecutive victories - the last of them coming last weekend against French visitors Bayonne, a result which secured a home quarter-final draw in the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Having maintained their interest in winning that trophy, Mapletoft is anxious not to fall by the wayside in the LV Cup.

"We are probably going to need to win both of our remaining group games to progress in this competition," said the coach. "Firstly, we must overcome Wasps and then if we manage to get a result we will focus on getting another against Cardiff the following Sunday.

"So there is no question of the Wasps clash being anything less fierce than previous battles between us. Our match against them earlier this month was a fantastic game of rugby and the crucial win has managed to strengthen our position in the Premiership. There is a good feeling at the club at the moment and we want to keep that going."

An England international training camp in Portugal coupled with an England Saxons fixture against Italy A tomorrow has left Mapletoft short of playing resources in Abu Dhabi.

"Maybe that's a good thing because all those available didn't want to miss this trip," Mapletoft said. "Certainly none of them has been complaining about the niggling type of injuries you hear about most other weeks.

"We'll have enough players to fill our squad and the trip is going to provide some of the less experienced lads with some valuable playing time."

Mapletoft, 39, capped by England as a fly-half for one international against Argentina in 1997 and a former coach of his country's Under 20s team, never complains about international call-ups affecting his selection options.

"It is good for the fabric of our club that we have as many of our players as possible earning recognition for their country," he said. "In our case it is predominantly England and I'm proud of that."

"When we beat Northampton on New Year's Day - one of the highlights of my time here as coach - 21 of our 23 players qualified to play for England. The more players in the Premiership who are qualified to play for England the stronger the England team will be and I care passionately about that." Skinner, 26, who is one of the Quins players with local knowledge of Abu Dhabi, having done a coaching stint with the club's namesakes here, shared his coach's view on that issue.

"Because of our recent success we've got a lot of guys who have been called up by England and I see this as an encouraging mark of our strength in depth," he said.

"This is a good opportunity for some of the younger guys to show what they can do and I'm sure they are going to relish that chance with what for some will be a trip of a lifetime.

"We just have to make sure that when we get out there we perform as we have been doing over the last few months and keep our momentum going."



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