Lions pick Smith makes Harlequins bench for rematch with Bristol
Gallagher Premiership title holders Harlequins have named an unchanged starting team for Friday night’s clash with Bristol following their win a fortnight ago versus Worcester, but recent Lions tourist Marcus Smith has been called up to the bench and is primed for his first appearance of the new campaign. The exploits of the 22-year-old last June were pivotal to the London club’s first league trophy since 2012.
That form catapulted him into the England squad for their summer series and after he earned the first two Test caps of his career, he became a mid-tour call-up for the Lions and featured in their match versus the Stormers in Cape Town.
England players who toured with the Lions were entitled to a nine-week break from the end of the tour on August 7 but with Smith having played his last game on July 17, he now returns to the Harlequins set-up a week early and takes the place of Huw Jones on the bench.
While the Londoners’ starting XV is unchanged from their most recent outing on September 25, the team chosen by the new head of rugby Tabai Matson sees six changes from the XV that took the field last June at Ashton Gate when Harlequins famously beat Bristol in the semi-final despite trailing by 28 points near the interval.
Matson said: “The last two weeks have allowed us some great preparation time ahead of Friday. We have had two great, yet challenging, bonus-point wins to start our campaign. The bye-week last week probably came at a good time for us.
'If you look at it in simple black and white, I joined Harlequins when they were tenth on equal points with the eleventh team.'
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“We had a couple of games and then reset, and we are excited to get back out there. We have had some great sessions this week and we are now starting a five-game block with a great encounter with Bristol. We have spoken a bit this week about that semi-final last season. We know that will probably have been a pebble under Bristol’s beach towel over the summer. This is the first time we have faced them since that game and we know it’s going to be as important a game for us as it is for them.
“This should be a fantastic encounter with two sides who play a massively positive brand of rugby. It’s an exciting fixture and I know our fans are probably just as eager as we are to see a blockbuster game under the Friday night lights.” Bristol, meanwhile, have handed Fitz Harding his first outing of the season. The blindside is one of three changes to the XV that overcame Bath last weekend, with Niyi Adeolokun and Jake Kerr also included.
HARLEQUINS: 15. Tyrone Green; 14. Louis Lynagh, 13. Joe Marchant, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Cadan Murley; 10. Tommy Allan, 9. Danny Care; 1. Joe Marler, 2. Jack Walker, 3. Simon Kerrod, 4. Matt Symons, 5. Dino Lamb, 6. Tom Lawday, 7. Jack Kenningham, 8. Alex Dombrandt (capt). Reps: 16. Sam Riley, 17. Fin Baxter, 18. Will Collier, 19. Hugh Tizard, 20. James Chisholm, 21. Scott Steele, 22. Marcus Smith, 23. Luke Northmore.
BRISTOL: 15. Charles Piutau; 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Piers O’Conor, 12. Sam Bedlow, 11. Henry Purdy; 10. Callum Sheedy, 9. Harry Randall; 1. Yann Thomas, 2. Jake Kerr, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Joe Joyce, 5. Chris Vui, 6. Fitz Harding, 7. Jake Heenan, 8. Steven Luatua (capt). Reps: 16. Harry Thacker, 17. Jake Woolmore, 18. Max Lahiff, 19. Ed Holmes, 20. Dan Thomas, 21. Andy Uren, 22. Ioan Lloyd, 23. Alapati Leiua.
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