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'Everyone says Quins are soft but we can play tough' - Adam Jones

By Chris Jones
Alex Dombrandt (PA)

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Wales legend Adam Jones continues to be mystified by the idea that his Harlequins pack is “soft” having clinched the Premiership title last season by showing real mental and physical grit to lay the foundations for the attacking excellence that will be on show again at Gloucester.

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Quins are currently third courtesy of their impressive Big Game win over Northampton in front of more than 70,000 fans at rain-soaked Twickenham – a performance that showed the champions could still move the ball with confidence despite the poor conditions. The work of the pack at the breakdown had Jones purring and he gave them a verbal pat on the back at half-time while extolling his men to even greater deeds.

Now, Jones’ forwards have to create the platform for an away win on the plastic pitch at Kingsholm where the home pack have been scoring driving maul tries for fun. Gloucester, up to fourth in the table, have scored over 75 per cent of their tries this season from a line out maul with the opposition seemingly unable to halt pumping Cherry- and-White legs.

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Ronan O’Gara as a coach
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Thanks to the mercurial Marcus Smith, who will be back after missing the Northampton win due to isolation, Quins are seen as the attacking magicians of the Premiership. However, those spellbinding raids – featuring the ball carrying of Andre “the Giant” Esterhuizen – rely on the ball-winning work of the forwards under the captaincy of lock Stephan Lewies.

Calling any pack “soft” when it includes England’s Joe Marler would appear foolish and with fellow prop Will Collier putting in a compelling case for an international recall four years after his last cap, Jones is adamant his players cannot be bullied in a physical contest.

The Wales and British and Irish Lions test prop said: “There is always that question – can Quins mix it? Everyone says Quins are soft but I am sure the Premiership teams (who face us) wouldn’t be saying that and if they do it would be fake motivation. We can play tough.

“I am sure that people expect us around Christmas to start slipping up because of the weather and the pitches and we enjoy opponents coming after our scrum and line out -it’s what you play for. The Shed at Gloucester love to stick it to you and the boys enjoy that and there will be chat back and forth.

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“Will Collier has to be in the mix for England at the moment. He is not old and as a prop you do mature later and it takes a few tough years to come through; at one point he was getting penalised a lot and I can’t remember when he last gave away a penalty in the scrum. He has done a great job and if Eddie Jones and Matt Proudfoot want to call him into the England squad I am sure he would do a great job.

“Will is growing in confidence and tight heads are confidence players. His technique is there and is phenomenal in the gym and outside the scrum he is a good maul defender and everyone remembers his try against Bristol.”

The key question for Jones and his fellow coaches this week has been: Can we stop the Gloucester maul? “It has been pretty successful and we have a plan. They have gone back to the days of Mike Teague and Phil Vickery and have an outstanding maul which is not surprising as their head coach (George Skivington) is a former second row. He knows his onions around that area and while it will be tough we have a good maul defence and will challenge them as much as we can.

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“We have to be disciplined so they don’t get the chance to kick penalties to the corner. The driving maul – once it is set – is hard to stop and you have to manipulate them so that it isn’t set as they want without giving away a penalty because the referee is watching you. It is almost in the attacking team’s favour when it becomes a pushing contest with a lot of angles and techniques, pretty much like a scrum.

“You cannot touch the jumper in the air and that also makes it tough to stop because their two lifters do such a good job that they give the maul real momentum the next three hitting the ball making it a six versus four at the front. We will give it a crack and are confident of going down there and doing a job and while we will give it respect we are not losing sleep over it.”

There were doubts over Quins’ ability to replicate their title success given the way they came from fourth place to win away at Bristol in remarkable circumstances and then knocked over Exeter 40-38 in a pulsating final. How they dealt with a target on their backs was always going to be key this season and Jones has been delighted with their response.

He added: “To win the first away one this season at Newcastle (26-20) was big and we could have won at Leicester having gone toe to toe with them. You either hate or embrace the challenge and we have embraced it and can still play better. “

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