ALEX Dombrandt will enjoy a rare break over Christmas before returning to drive Harlequins’ twin assaults on the Premiership and the Champions Cup, starting with Saturday’s Big Game against Gloucester at an expected sell-out Twickenham.
Quins suffered a jolt after their victory over Racing 92 in Paris when they were heavily beaten by Toulouse at The Stoop, but they remain on course in the Champions Cup with a trip to Cardiff and the visit of Ulster next month.
“It has been a relentless run since the start of the season,” said Dombrandt, the England No.8 and Quins captain. “I feel we are in a really good position despite the defeat to Toulouse.
“The victory at Racing was one of the best results I have had in my time with the club, but Toulouse were clinical against us. We stayed in the fight for large periods, but if you make mistakes against a team of that quality you will be punished.
Coach: Nick Evans
“We have a few days off over Christmas, the best break I will have had since I started playing, and then we will be back on it to set ourselves up going into the new year.
“Everyone looks forward to being involved in the Big Game which is on course to be a sell-out. It is a special day and it is a day you look out for when the fixtures are announced.
“We want to produce performances consistently and the victories over Sale and Racing showed the improvements we have made. It is a whole squad effort and we know that everyone is ready if and when they are called on.” Dombrandt has started all 11 matches in the Premiership and Champions Cup this season and has been one of Quins leading performers as he looks to get back into favour with England after being left out of the World Cup squad.
“It is not for me to talk about m y form,” he said. “I am focusing on producing good performances for Quins and driving the team forward. I cannot control anything else.”
Another Harlequin in contention for the Six Nations is outside-half Marcus Smith, below. He was used by England as a fullback during the World Cup, but with Owen Farrell taking time out from the international game, there is a vacancy at number 10.
“Marcus is our 10,” said Nick Evans, the Quins attack coach when asked whether the club would consider starting him at full-back having moved him there on occasion late on in matches when Wales outside-half Jarrod Evans has been brought on.
“He brings so much to the game. The experience of playing 15 at Test level has opened a door and added a string to his bow but we see him as a 10. Sometimes a game may dictate change and you want to keep your best players on the field, but he is a mainstay and we want him to concentrate on outside-half because he adds so much to us and I have no doubt he will for England if he gets a chance in the jersey.”
Smith is an instinctive player who reacts to what is in front of him and exploits space, but Evans, a former New Zealand outside-half who was part of England’s coaching team in the Six Nations, has been working on his kicking.
“It is an area he needs to focus on from an England perspective,” said Evans. “He needs to make sure that is a big part of his game and he showed against Sale and Racing recently the variety and control a top 10 needs to have.
“I have no doubt that he can do that at the highest level with England and it will always be something driven from the outside. Marcus understands and knows what he has to work on but we want him to show what he is brilliant at, his instinctive play and variety and ability to see space and play it.
On the run: Alex Dombrandt scoring against Racing 92
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“I do not want to coach robots but people who have the courage and ability to play space. He leads that. We are trying to make and help him be an all-round 10 so he can live his dream and play in that jersey for England.
“He understands Test rugby is different from the club game. Time and space are taken away and I found when coaching England it is the most ferocious breakdown you can find, making it hard to get on the front foot and you have to develop a kicking game, as Finn Russell has with Scotland.
“All good Test 10s have that ability and Marcus does. Steve Borthwick is smart. He knows what Marcus is like and the ability he has. He appreciates what Marcus can bring and his ability to create for others. It may be at 10 or 15 – we will have to wait and see.”