Quins' SA contingent keen to get their teeth into new season
PRE-SEASON SPOTLIGHT: Defending champions Harlequins’ South African contingent are keen to get their teeth sunk into the new Premiership season.
Springbok André Esterhuizen, fresh from the 21-40 pre-season loss to Irish giants Leinster last week, said they are excited about the trip to Newcastle and a Round One showdown with the Falcons to start their title defence on Sunday.
The SA trio of Esterhuizen, Tyrone Green and Simon Kerrod all started in the outing in Dublin last Friday.
They played off the bench when Quins kicked off their pre-season with a win over Cardiff the week before.
Other South Africans – like Jordan Els (who has had just 394 minutes in the past two seasons) and Wilco Louw (on Springbok duty in Australia) – have not featured yet.
Esterhuizen believes maintaining and bettering last season’s standards will drive the champions forward as they look to defend their Premiership crown.
Quins shocked the entire league – on more than one occasion – last season en route to claiming a stunning title win over Exeter Chiefs, 40-38, in the Premiership Rugby Final.
And with the new season on the horizon, South African international Esterhuizen feels the off-season has given Quins time to improve on their already impressive attacking style of play.
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“The pre-season has gone good,” said the 27-year-old.
“Obviously a few of us were back in South Africa for a bit so we only joined up with the squad about two weeks ago.
“We still had to quarantine but the boys have been grinding it out this pre-season working on how we want to play.
“We’ve been working on what we can improve on in our attacking style of play but also to give more focus on the defensive side too.
“The spirit in the camp’s good obviously coming off the back of a win in the final.
“It’s always nice to do that because everyone is happy but you also have another responsibility to keep the same standards as the previous season and keep on improving on that.
“It’s been looking very good for the season ahead.”
Quins’ title win last season capped off a memorable end-of-season run that saw them run rampant as they scored tries for fun in the Premiership.
In their semifinal tie against Bristol Bears, they pulled off the biggest comeback in Premiership Rugby history, overturning a 28-0 deficit to beat the Bears 43-36 at Ashton Gate.
And while their Twickenham triumph over Chiefs a week later might have left many stunned, Esterhuizen and Co knew exactly what they were capable of.
“I wouldn’t say it’s weird for us,” said Esterhuizen. “I think weird for a lot of other people because even though we finished fourth, we knew that we could win the final.
“Obviously, it was, for all the spectators and teams, weird for them – but we knew that if we play the game that we want to play, then on the day we can beat anyone.
“Fortunately in the last two games against Bristol and Exeter that happened.
“We came back from 28-0 down against Bristol…we woke up a bit late for that one. I was in the stands and I was losing my mind up there!”
The start of pre-season is a reminder that last season is gone, cast away into the winds, with a new season bringing new challenges.
The last Premiership campaign was one of the most weird and wonderful to date.
And Esterhuizen reckons Quins’ shortened pre-season will keep them fresh and ready as they look to ramp up preparations ahead of their title defence.
“To be honest, we’ve had a longer off-time, so we’ve had a shorter pre-season again,” said Esterhuizen.
“We haven’t had a massive pre-season but the nice thing about it is it’s short and sharp, so it keeps you fresh.
“As soon as you get into the games, like the two we have, that gives you the chance to get game fit.
“In my personal opinion, the quickest way to get game fit is by playing a game or two – so you’re in short, sharp and fresh going into the new season and you’re not tired after a long hard pre-season.
“I think it depends from person to person how they want to get into the season but as a team we keep it short and sharp.”
While Harlequins ended last season on the highest of highs, they also had to bid farewell to club legend Mike Brown, who has moved up north to join Newcastle Falcons.
During his time at the Stoop, Brown amassed a whopping 351 appearances for Quins, the most in the club’s history.
Joining Brown in Newcastle is wing Nathan Earle, while Welsh international hooker Scott Baldwin has moved on to join Worcester Warriors.
However, while they may have lost plenty of experience, Quins have made up for it with the additions of fly-half Tommaso Allan from Benetton and centre Huw Jones from Glasgow Warriors.
Italian international Allan could play a key role should Marcus Smith continue his sensational rise to regular England starter while Jones will give Harlequins another threat to add to their already frightening backline.