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Harlequins: The Louis Lynagh return and Evans with England latest

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

Louis Lynagh is available for Harlequins selection for the first time since last June after playing his first match in nine months last weekend with London Scottish. The London clubs have a partnership whereby players can appear for both clubs and the son of the legendary Wallaby Michael made the trip to Caldy last Saturday to prove his fitness in time for this weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup tie away to the Stormers.  


Lynagh came through the guts of 50 minutes in that 19-26 Championship defeat for Scottish and after returning to London, he jumped on the plane at Heathrow on Sunday night for Harlequins’ flight to Cape Town for their round-of-16 clash with the URC champions. 

Not since the final round of the 2021/22 regular season at Exeter last June has the name of Lynagh been on a Harlequins teamsheet, but that could be about to change as head coach Tabai Matson said the winger is finally available to play 43 weeks after he last wore their shirt.     

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“He is available for selection,” said Matson at a Thursday evening virtually held media briefing from Cape Town. “He played 51 minutes for Scottish on Saturday and hopped on the plane on Sunday. It’s great to see him back and he is available. 

“This time of the year the health of your roster is really important. If you look at the games we have done well in, it is down to availability. Not even around selection – it’s often the quality of training when you have a roster that is full. It is really important at this time of year that you prepare really well and have as many people available to make selection difficult. It’s great he is back.” 


Matson had no update regarding the status of assistant coach Nick Evans and whether he will continue to work with England after his involvement in the recent Guinness Six Nations. Steve Borthwick announced on Thursday that Felix Jones would be joining England from the Springboks in time for the 2024 Six Nations. 

However, there was no update from the RFU regarding Evans, and Matson was none the wiser either when asked if there was an update. “Not from my end. There is nothing I have been told so I won’t comment on it. I’d like to know.” 


What he did say about Evans was how the assistant addressed the Harlequins squad earlier this week in South Africa and told them that the Londoners have never before won a knockout tie in the Champions Cup and that there was no better place than Cape Town to alter that sequence. 

“We reflected on that earlier in the week. Nick Evans, who has been here for many of our European campaigns before, one of the things he said was we have never actually gone through in a playoff game in Europe.  

“This is a pretty big opportunity for us and also a really difficult one. It has framed the week well – we have got one of the best teams in the URC and an opportunity we have never scratched before. It has been a cool week. 

“It is really cool playing a team that is exciting. Sometimes when you are playing a team that is contrasting, it becomes a bit of an arm wrestle in your game plan, but we [Harlequins and Stormers] actually have a lot in common. A lot of the intent will be similar.  


“They have got a phenomenal front row; so do we. They have got an amazing back three; so do we. The book ends are going to be a telling part of the fixture on Saturday, the front three and the back three. In that regard, we play a similar game. I am not saying that it suits you necessarily, but it makes for an exciting contest. We are going to try and stop them doing some of the things they are going to try and stop us doing.” 

It was a year ago after Harlequins lost out to Montpellier over a two-leg round-of-16 encounter that Matson bemoaned the format of the tournament, claiming that playing home and away in the first round of the knockouts meant there was no advantage to finishing high up the pool rankings.  

The format has since changed, with the round-of-16 now just a one-off match, but the coach won’t complain his team have no second chance. “I’m happy with it. They [Stormers] have done better in the Champions Cup so for them to get home advantage, that is fair. Clearly, I was sour grapes last year.  

“We have never played these guys so that also adds to the interest. The opening 15 minutes will be really interesting. They have got a game plan; we have got a game plan. After 15, you might throw it out the window.” 

Having assisted the Crusaders, Matson knows from his Super Rugby days what it is like to be crossing continents to play club rugby. Harlequins got a taste 16 weeks ago when beaten at the Sharks in Durban in their opening pool match, but their boss hopes his team are now better prepared for this knockout stage assignment.    

“We hopped on a plane Sunday night and arrived here with the transfers at about 5pm on Monday so we had a full training Tuesday, full training day today [Thursday] and that is often a rarity when you are crossing continents. We knew that was going to be really important. A playoff game, you don’t want to regret not coming out a day earlier if we can and we were also lucky we didn’t get too many scratches in the Saracens game.  

“We are lucky that the Stormers travelled back from Leinster as well, so we are probably on the same footing. When you are travelling across continents if you can get there a bit earlier and acclimatise, it is a bit better. A few people had a bit of Delhi belly earlier on in the week, there are a few red patches on boys as they adapt to the different climate.  

“Is there a learning from the Sharks? There is a little. One of the big things from the Sharks is if you don’t match the physicality of the African sides, you just don’t compete on this continent. That was the big takehome from the Sharks. We got it right in the second game, but we only have one crack at the Stormers. If we don’t get that part right, it will be a very long day. 

“It’s do or die and we have got to deliver a performance. There are a lot of reasons to play well. The expectation at the club is always really high. It’s a big week for us to get our game plan right and deliver on Saturday.” 


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