Harlequins head into the New Year in the Aviva Premiership Rugby top four and director of rugby Conor O’Shea believes temperament will decide whether or not they stay there.
Last season Quins were in touch with the play-off spots at the turn of the year, only to fall away in the second half of the campaign and finish well outside the top half.
O’Shea addressed that disappointment with a host of summer signings – Tim Visser, Adam Jones, Jamie Roberts and James Horwill among the arrivals.
So far, so good as Harlequins sit six points clear of fifth-place Northampton Saints after seven rounds, with a 38-28 win at Bath Rugby in late October among the early-season highlights.
The late start to the season – delayed by the Rugby World Cup – will ensure squads across the competition are tested in the New Year and O’Shea is hoping to see his crop rise to the challenge.
“We are excited and we are very ambitious this year,” he said. “There is such a long way to go but it is nice to have a few points on the board.
“As a squad we have got a few knocks and bruises, nothing long-term. It will be survival of the fittest and we know this is a very important mini block of the league.
“There is a really good buzz around the place. Everyone always says it’s going to be the hardest Premiership it has ever been but I think this year, partly because of the schedule, it is going to be brutal.
“You have to be prepared to understand that things are going to go wrong for you and it is going to be the teams that don’t over react and keep their cool who come out on top.”
The gap to Northampton could have been even bigger, were Harlequins not held to a 39-39 draw by Gloucester Rugby at Twickenham on Sunday.
Big Game 8 proved to be a thrilling ten-try contest, in which Gloucester centre Henry Trinder grabbed a pair of intercept scores and Quins fly-half Nick Evans missed a last-gasp drop goal to win it.
“Even on reflection, it was a bizarre game,” added O’Shea. “You knew that people had been treated to a cracking game of rugby and it takes two sides to come out with a willingness to play.
“Credit to Gloucester for hanging in there but a lot of it was in our own control – but we kept on coming back, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves and we had a drop-goal to win it at the end. In a long season, it will be a lesson learnt.”
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