x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Harlequins happy to be underdogs to Leicester Tigers

Quins confident after Abu Dhabi preparation having topped the regular season, finishing a point ahead of the Tigers.

The Harlequins camp in UAE as more about team bonding than training in the heat.
The Harlequins camp in UAE as more about team bonding than training in the heat.

Harlequins, the Elite rugby side, are hoping their first-ever Premiership final against the Leicester Tigers at Twickenham on Saturday marks the start of a new era of success for the club.

The Quins topped the regular season, finishing one point ahead of the Tigers and building on their Amlin Cup triumph last year.

But they still start as underdogs against a side in their eighth consecutive final.

"For the players and the club, it will be monumental and hopefully it is just the start whichever way it will work," Conor O'Shea, their director of rugby, told The National last week as the team undertook a four-day training camp in Abu Dhabi.

"We're not here to just be a team that is around for a year. We've got a great group of young players who we believe will just get better and stronger as the years go on. Last year was setting out on that pathway in terms of getting that first bit of silverware and this year we've made massive strides and made further statements to where we want to go."

For all their progress this season, O'Shea acknowledges that his team start as underdogs against a side he called the "Manchester United" of rugby.

"I've never been confident you know. Leicester are an incredible team, making eight finals in a row. They'll go into this as hot favourites and people will write us off even though we finished a point ahead of them. They're on an incredible run but we're excited and we've proven through the year and over the last couple of years that we are a team that learns quickly, we learn from setbacks."

The Quins trip to Abu Dhabi was less about acclimatisation - they trained in 40°C-plus temperatures - than it was about bonding and team-building.

They have spent the week since carrying out their normal training routine.

In stark contrast, Leicester were more than happy to continue with a routine that has seen them finish the season with considerable momentum, winning 11 games in a row; they were as low as 11th in the Premiership in October.

It is that form as much as their past pedigree that makes them most people's favourites to win, despite a moderate finals record which has seen them win three out of seven.

"We're going to be simple and boring and have a standard week," said Richard Cockerill, the Tigers' director of rugby.

"Last year, in hindsight, we probably did too much work in advance and we've learned our lesson from that. Going to Abu Dhabi is not really our thing. The lads are away from home enough and, with a lot of players going on tour, there didn't seem any point in them spending another four or five days out of the country."

Despite Leicester beginning favourites, the sides shared the spoils during the regular season; Quins defeated Leicester away at Welford Road but lost a 13-point lead to lose the return at home. But Leicester won their other meeting as well, in the LV Cup earlier in the season.


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