Harlequins could win the Premiership again, but they aren’t the only contenders in south-west London

I’ve been saying for a while that if you live in West London and want entertainment you should check out Harlequins and London Irish. They are both great to watch.

It’s interesting how an attacking squad’s mentality brings out the best in players, both young and old. However, the difficulty you have in predicting this London derby on Saturday is that both sides are the comeback kids. They are fully capable of coming from behind to win. So, if you have two sides that both like to score points in the second half, which one of them will take the risk and give it all they can in the first half?

Irish are a fascinating side – just one win all season, with three draws, but they are just three points behind Exeter in fourth place. They’ve turned around some incredible flaws, just like Harlequins.

Irish thought they’d bring in a lot of big names up front and that group would provide the legwork in their sides, but it’s really the younger players who have impressed: Tom Parton, Ollie Hassell-Collins, the flanker Tom Pearson who the match last Friday against Saracens. It’s not just about imports when it comes to Irish mentality. But if they were just a little stronger mentally, both starting and finishing matches, Irish would be a real threat this season – almost like Harlequins was last season. They are so hard to play against.

The only problem is that we are just entering the wetter, darker months of the season. It’s not the Serengeti, but the conditions are getting so much harder to play in. Do London Irish have that adaptation in their game? It’s not like 10 years ago – the fields are all so good now that even when push comes to shove, you can still run on any surface.

So, how do the Irish find their way up in the league – because they are a really good side in terms of their attack. They are stretching the defense and the way Paddy Jackson has played has been tremendous. He missed a few kicks to win games in the closing minutes, but that aside, Jackson really kept that front pack and backline together.

If you look at Harlequins, they look like Irishmen with that loose style of play, but the difference is that London Irish doesn’t have a South African giant in midfield called Andre Esterhuizen. There are also other strong ball carriers: Luke Northmore and Cadan Murley.

Not sure if Irish have the same physical carriers in their backline, they are more like finding space. Terrence Hepetema is quite small and keeps getting turned away. Curtis Rona has more size but is more of a 13. If you put a center like Esterhuizen in that Irish back line, it would give them just a little more balance. And Irish attackers are good, they can cross the field. Agustin Creevy, the Argentine hooker who is now 36, may just be the player of the season so far.

There are six or seven sides that can win this season

As for Harlequins, they handled an issue at fly-half quite well with Marcus Smith gone coupled with Tommaso Allan injured, while Will Edwards came in and performed well.

Now the mindset in the league has changed, with a greater focus on creating space rather than gaining field position, opening the door for former sevens players like Edwards, who can appreciate space and create it better than most , to be effective in XVs.

Of the English contingent of Harlequins, Joe Marler will take on Irish, with Smith, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant all equipped, but Harlequins still look strong.

They definitely deserve to be in the title conversation. I saw Danny Care say that ‘everyone has written us off, nobody thinks we can do it again, but we absolutely can’, and I totally agree – Harlequins can absolutely win the Premiership again at full strength. But there are six or seven sides that could win it this season. Leicester may walk away with first place, although it will be interesting to see what they do with George Ford now that he leaves. But after that you have three play-off spots and several teams that could fill them, including London Irish.

This game should be a showpiece for the more attacking mentality of playing rugby. They had two great games last season, with Irish taking a late draw at The Stoop and Harlequins taking the win at Brentford with Smith’s dramatic late try.

It’s back to a real local derby now that the Irish have moved back to London just around the corner. Two brilliantly entertaining teams, and going to both grounds makes for a great day out. Hopefully I didn’t screw up and we avoid a 3-3 draw.


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