Harlequins going to need 'a bit of everything' to overcome Bordeaux test

Can they beat Bordeaux? Harlequins set for stiff challenge as they look to reach Champions Cup last four

In the aftermath of their gripping victory over Glasgow Warriors, Harlequins are bracing themselves for a monumental showdown against Bordeaux-Begles in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.

With echoes of their last-16 win still reverberating through the club, captain Stephan Lewies and Director of Rugby Billy Millard shared their insights and aspirations ahead of their clash with the French giants.

“Everyone was really excited after that win [over Glasgow] at home and the boys really enjoyed the game," said Lewies.

“We were actually really proud after the game against Glasgow Warriors. When it became close at the end and they kicked, we defended many phases and so when we have to do it, we know we can.

“Victory for us means a lot and when you get momentum in sport, you can use that momentum. Getting over the line was nice for the confidence of the youngsters in the group. It shows that they can get it over the line if they end up in that situation again.”

Lewies, visibly buoyed by his team's resolute defensive display, underscored the significance of remaining calm in tight situations. "We let them back in the game," he admitted after Quins had done something very similar against Bath a week earlier. "But there were more positives than negatives to reflect on."

Such resilience bodes well for Quins as they prepare to face a formidable Bordeaux side, renowned for their physical prowess.

“For us as forwards, we can try our best to give them [Harlequins' backs] that platform to play the Quins’ way and see what magic they can come up with," added Lewies.

In a season containing trademark tumultuous matches, including a distinctive 52-7 loss to Saracens and that aforementioned 40-36 triumph over Bath, Quins - despite leading 21-7 at one point - did display some timely composure on the defensive front to see out their 28-24 win against Glasgow. It is a trait they hope to carry forward into future games.

Indeed, the looming challenge of Bordeaux has ignited a special fervour within the Quins camp and Lewies spoke passionately about the allure of the Champions Cup. "Playing against the world's best is what it's all about," he remarked, likening the upcoming clash to an international Test match.

However, the Quins skipper remains grounded in the face of Bordeaux's imposing stature. He highlighted the importance of sticking to the club's DNA, their entertaining all-court style of play whilst also acknowledging the French side's power up front.

Lewies feels that Quins can disrupt Bordeaux's rhythm in addition to playing their own brand of rugby, which could be a potential game-changer.

Meanwhile, Millard delved into the pragmatic considerations guiding Quins' preparations. With an eye on player welfare amidst a gruelling schedule, there is rotation at scrum-half with Will Porter starting at nine while Chandler Cunningham-South returns from injury to feature from the get-go.

Millard emphasised the club's unwavering commitment to putting their best foot forward in Bordeaux, recognising the magnitude of every fixture between now and the end of the season as Quins look to also finish in the top four of the Premiership.

Drawing inspiration and lessons learnt from rivals Saracens and their defeats against Bordeaux in the pool stages and in the Round of 16, the Quins boss outlined their possible blueprint for success.

"It was quite good knowing Sarries so well and seeing their game has kind of helped us frame our approach," he admitted. "We are going to have to be good and we're going to need to, as Steph said before, have a bit of everything to compete. 

"They are physical but we have to match that physicality and then on the back of that, as we always say, we have our Quins moments.

“It’s a big finish to the season, but it’s about consistency and being consistent under serious stress. That’s a big part of our focus going into the end of the season.

“This is a great opportunity to head to Bordeaux and play in a unique environment. It's an exciting vibe."

Earlier this week, attack coach Nick Evans mentioned Quins’ positive results in France - their most recent being a 31-28 victory in the pool stages away at Racing 92 - and that, according to Millard, adds further motivation for the team.

However, beyond the immediate tactical considerations, Millard also discussed the broader landscape of English rugby.

He articulated a holistic approach to player development, encompassing everything from game time to psychological support in order to sustainably cultivate the next generation of Quins stars.

This emphasis on nurturing talent reflects the club's long-term vision, ensuring Quins remain competitive not just in the Champions Cup but in domestic competitions as well.

“France has a different system, what we’re constantly talking about here is developing our pathway, bridging that gap between a really good 18-year-old to a 200 capper or someone who’s holding their own like Fin [Baxter] or Marcus [Smith].

“We have some very talented boys coming through. We’re looking at how to speed their development up and to play their first-grade young but also have that sustainability for 200-250 games. That’s more of the focus.

“It’s about providing that holistic support around the players. For example, medical, strength and conditioning advice, then below that it’s participation. Even to get them into the sport and then bring them through is the first sort of foundation. We have a good catchment area.

“My job is to look at those top players and think outside the box, do it differently and make the system better from sport psychology to game time or strength and conditioning."

But in terms of the here and now, minds are on Bordeaux. The Top 14 side lost just once in the pool stages, a narrow defeat in South Africa to the Bulls, and gradually, they are emerging as one of the favourites to lift the Champions Cup on May 25th.

Quins are poised for the challenge though, and Lewies and Millard exude a blend of confidence and caution, cognizant of the hurdles ahead of them yet undeterred in their quest for victory.