Quins and Scarlets tipped to upset French monopoly of Heineken Cup
HARLEQUINS boss Conor O'Shea believes both the Quins and Scarlets and are capable of upsetting the expected French monopoly of their Heineken Cup pool ahead of Saturday's opener at The Stoop.
The Llanelli-based region are rank outsiders in a brutal group that also contains last year's beaten finalists Clermont Auvergne and a Racing Metro side stacked with international talent.
Despite an indifferent start to their Premiership campaign, the Quins are still being tipped to challenge strongly, having reached the quarter-final stage last season.
And despite the Scarlets having not made the knockout rounds since 2007, wins at London Irish, Northampton and Castres in recent years have shown the West Walians have the ability to rip up the form book.
"Everyone poses a threat and to have the traditional cross-border rivalry between England and Welsh sides at The Stoop is a great way to kick off the tournament," said O'Shea, the Quins director of rugby.
"People on the outside may look at it and say Racing and Clermont will be favourites to head the group, that the pool is between them. But it's up to ourselves and the Scarlets to be the guys who will cause an upset.
"The truth is there are four really good sides in there. Scarlets down at Parc y Scarlets are going to be incredible, as they will away from home. They have tradition — and we know how much tradition counts after Munster came to our place last year.
"We know what Scarlets played like in Franklin's Gardens a couple of seasons ago, so it will be a humdinger of a game to start things off."
Like the Scarlets, the Quins have endured a tough opening five weeks domestically, losing three of their five league matches, including a surprise 18-13 defeat to London Irish in Reading on Saturday.
Most pundits have Clermont and Racing as the sides to beat and O'Shea believes both Harlequins and the Scarlets will gain motivation from the underdogs' tag.
"Players and coaches want to test themselves in these games," he added.
"Money doesn't always count for everything. Sometimes it can be about getting your best players fit and involved on the pitch.
"There are outstanding players in the Scarlets and Harlequins sides and they are very proud. They will want to go out against Racing and Clermont and prove money isn't everything. But at the moment we are not looking past Scarlets.
"They have the talent that they always have. While they have lost Andy Fenby and George North, they still have unbelievable talent in their backs. And anyone who has known Simon Easterby over the years will know they aren't going to have a pack that goes backwards."