2022 Harlequin F.C. vs Sharks

Heineken Champions Cup Game Of The Week: Cell C Sharks Vs. Harlequins

Heineken Champions Cup Game Of The Week: Cell C Sharks Vs. Harlequins

Heineken Champions Cup round four game of the week, Cell C Sharks vs. Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop January 21st 2023.

Jan 19, 2023
Heineken Champions Cup Game Of The Week: Cell C Sharks Vs. Harlequins

The undefeated Cell C Sharks travel to the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday looking to close out an undefeated Heineken Champions Cup pool stage campaign. 

Standing in their way is a desperate Harlequins side who know anything less than a victory could see them bow out of play-off contention. 

Thus, the stage is set for a clash of epic proportions between two sides who have it all to play for.

Opening up their first ever Champions Cup campaign with a 38 – 31 victory at home over Harlequins in round one. The Sharks travel to London buoyed by back-to-back victories over French Top14 side Bordeux-Begles.  

Trailing only Leinster in Pool A, Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell knows just how crucial a top seeding and the home field advantage it brings will be to his side’s chances of going all the way this season. 

"Home ground advantage will definitely be crucial," Powell said. 

"If you look at the history of the competition, the teams with home ground advantage have got a massive advantage going into even the pool games. 

"They know the conditions much better and know how to play them. It will be a big advantage for us, if we can secure those." 

Powell’s words have been backed up by actions as he has brought a squad stacked with first choice players to London. 

"There’s always something in it (team selection), whether we make it into the round of 16 or not," Powell said about team selection tinkering. 

"It definitely won’t matter regarding how we approach our next game. There’s still a lot to play for, which is obviously your home knockout game. 

"If we can get more points from Harlequins, it gives us a better opportunity to secure home matches in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, if we’re successful. 

"That will be one of our goals going into the Harlequins game." 

Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi will once again lead from the front having been named in the touring squad.  

Not only is Kolisi a key leader for the Sharks but also one of their top performing players. The 31-year-old who announced his move to French Top14 side Racing92 last week, plays a key role in the Sharks attacking game.

Leading the competition in offloads in round three, Kolisi completed a whopping five offloads in his side’s dominant 32 – 3 victory over Bordeaux. 

Learning from Kolisi is Democratic republic of Congo born Vincent Tshituka who has come from the relative unknown to be one of the most lethal turnover merchants in the competition. Tshituka’s seven turnovers so far this season are the most by any player and could see the 24-year-old propelled into Springbok contention later this season. 

Elsewhere fellow Springbok stalwart Makazole Mapimpi has spent the season terrorizing opposition defences leading the competition in defenders beaten column whilst being joint second in the most clean line breaks department. 

Certainly, the Sharks are the form side coming into this match-up, but this Harlequins side are a far different prospect than their round one iteration. 

Starting at flyhalf, England star Marcus Smith has returned from injury and is likely to be named in the starting playmaking role. 

Smith’s addition is a major upgrade on Italian international Tomasso Allan who has played well and is a solid operator but lacks the creative spark of Smith. 

Playing outside Smith is former Shark Andre Esterhuizen who has been sublime for Quins this season. The Springbok centre combines brutal physicality with a subtle offloading game, offering not only a safety net to Smith but also sucking in defenders for his outside backs. 

Esterhuizen’s form reflects in the stats sheet as he leads the competition with 60 meters made through contact highlighting his dominance at the contact point.  

Speaking of the Quins outside backs, recent England call-up Canden Murley has been one of their top performers so far this season. 

The 23-year-old winger is joint with Mapimpi in the clean line breaks department and has scored two tries through the first three rounds. 

Now set to make his international debut under new England coach Steve Borthwick, Murley will be all too aware of how influential a strong performance against one of the best wingers in the world in Mapimpi could be. 

With both sides packed to gills with attacking talent, fans at the Stoop look set for a feast of attacking rugby.  

Playing into both sides hands is the weather forecast’s prediction of a dry sunny day Saturday which should lead to a fast playing surface. 

Looking at the two squads, on paper the backlines look about par whilst in the forward pack the Sharks would appear to hold the advantage. 

Should Quins be able to get parity at the set piece or at the very least avoid being dominated this will go a long way to allowing Smith and co a chance to rip into their visitors. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Londoners this weekend however is themselves. Having become notorious for starting fixtures slowly, Quins have become a side all too familiar with having to dig themselves out of a hole. 

Take for example last weekend’s narrow two-point loss away to Racing92. Falling twenty-one points behind, Quins looked dead and buried only to rush back into the lead with less than five minutes to play. 

Just how much emotional energy this takes out of them would be an interesting metric to follow. Perhaps the Racing defeat is the best indicator as Quins conceded a silly kick-off penalty to immediately hand the lead back to their hosts. In normally circumstances these schoolboy errors could well be avoided.  

For this weekend’s clash, should they fall behind to a Springbok laden Sharks squad the chances of mounting a comeback are slim to none. A fact that head coach Tabai Matson will be all too aware of.

Based on form the Sharks should take this one rather comfortably. However, as Powell noted, home advantage will be a factor, but it should not be enough to see Quins disrupt their URC opponents march to the play-offs.  Sharks by 8.   

Last Six Fixtures Form Guide:

Cell C Sharks: WWWWLW 

Harlequins: LWLLLL