After their worst season since relegation in 2005, Paul Gustard is now at the helm for a Harlequins side stacked with quality and experience. But can they recover from their 10th placed finish last season? Josh Bartholomew outlines their chances.
Last Season: In an abysmal campaign which saw John Kingston leave his post as Director of Rugby after 17 years at the club, few other things could’ve gone wrong for Quins. Their attack didn’t function, but the defence was leak, and they won just seven games.
Strengths: In Paul Gustard, Harlequins now have a leader who can rival all other Premiership head coaches. A man fabled for his defensive coaching in creating the ‘Wolfpack’ at Saracens, Quins can expect to become much more difficult to break down. Beyond this, the same imperious attacking quality remains from last season, and now have the opportunity to supress their demons of the previous campaign.
Weaknesses: Harlequins’ core, though talented, often seems to be one which can break under any kind of duress. In other words, Quins are far too easy to beat when the other team is in the ascendency. Though Gustard will be looking to change this, his squad is still largely the same, and he’ll be relying on his backroom staff to help him make psychological changes to the team. Furthermore, Harlequins look short of depth in key positions – primarily scrum-half and second row – which could harm any top six bid.
Recruitment Rating: Though perhaps slightly more ‘cleaning out’ of the squad was required, Harlequins have managed to control their departures successfully. Ben Tapuai, Nick Auterac and Nathan Earle will all strengthen their respective departments, while Matt Symons can add much-needed leadership to a talented Quins side.
Key Man: Though Marcus Smith enjoyed a successful breakthrough season, he did struggle to impose control on tighter games. The man who was brought in to replace Nick Evans – Demitri Catrakilis – found himself recovering from injury for the majority of the season. Nonetheless, Catrakilis is a classy operator and if he can find form, he could propel Harlequins towards the higher positions where they surely expect to be in.
Young Gun to watch: Though Gustard would’ve liked to sign a scrum-half to back up Danny Care, the absence of any clear replacement for the England international could result in more game time for youngster Calum Waters. Waters, an England u20 star, made just one Premiership appearance last season, but is clearly talented and deserves more of an opportunity. Expect Marcus Smith to progress even further and offer a threat off the bench too.
Prediction: Harlequins’ squad is fairly similar to last season, and in Paul Gustard their coach is, though undoubtedly talented, ultimately inexperienced as a number one. It might take time for Gustard’s revolution to take stock, so they will finish 10th. Watch out for them in future seasons.
Ins: Nathan Earle (Saracens), Max Crumpton (Bristol Bears), Alex Dombrandt (Cardiff Metropolitan University), Ben Tapuai, Nick Auterac (both Bath), Matt Symons (Wasps), Paul Lasike (Utah Warriors).
Outs: Jamie Roberts (Bath), Winston Stanley, Adam Jones (both retired), Harry Sloan (Ealing Trailfinders), Sam Aspland-Robinson (Leicester Tigers), Charlie Matthews (Wasps), Ian Prior (Western Force), Cameron Holenstein (Jersey Reds), Sam Twomey (London Irish), Jono Kitto (Northland), Joe Gray (Northampton Saints)*.
*Gray signed for Northampton on a loan deal.