Easter targets Saracens dress rehearsal
Nick Easter, the Harlequins forward, is hoping that he will not be sick of the sight of Saracens when he plays for a Bermuda Select XV against the Aviva Premiership behemoths at the National Sports Centre next month.
Easter's Harlequins, who are bang in form after winning their past five matches to finish fourth in the table, will be the underdogs when they face the table-topping Saracens in the Premiership semi-final at Allianz Park today.
Despite Harlequins' recent purple patch, they have beaten Saracens only once in their past ten meetings and Easter admits that they will have to be at full throttle to defeat their much fancied opponents.
“On any given day, any team can beat anyone, but Saracens have been blazing through the league this season and, on the back of a very impressive European semi-final performance [a 46-6 demolition of Clermont Auvergne], they are firm favourites,” said the former England No 8.
“We would prefer to be favourites and prefer to play at home, but if we hit our straps, we are pretty much unplayable — but that's a big ‘if'. We have to be very accurate with the ball and implement our game plan.”
Easter, who will line up alongside Olly Barkley, Mark Cueto, Shane Geraghty, Marc Jones and Martin Castrogiovanni in the Select XV side at the NSC on June 8, accepts that Harlequins' season would have been deemed a disappointment had they not forced their way into the play-offs.
“There's still pressure on us,” Easter said. “Ultimately you're playing for the right to play in front of 80,000 people for the Premiership title, which is what you set out to do on day one of pre-season.
“After a long, hard season you don't want to blow that opportunity, which is only an 80-minute performance away.
“It's not as though there isn't any pressure because we're underdogs — we know there's still something to lose at the end of it.”
Northampton await the winners after coming from 11 points behind to edge Leicester 21-20 yesterday.
Easter, 35, who will break Harlequins' appearances record by playing his 233rd game for the club, believes that today's sudden-death challenge against Saracens will bring out the best in his team. “If we hadn't made the play-offs, the season would be seen as a failure by our high standards of the last couple of years.” said Easter, who joined Harlequins from Wigan-based side Orrell in 2004 and made his England debut against Italy three years later.
“It's obviously a different route that we've taken in recent years when we've hit the ground running and been pretty assured of making the play-offs.
“This season we have really had to fight and each of our last six games has really been a knockout game. If we'd lost one of them, then we wouldn't be where we are now.”
Despite Conor O'Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby, recently backing Easter for an international recall for the 2015 World Cup in England, Easter is not holding his breath.
He has not featured for the national team since the last World Cup in New Zealand when he was reported to have reacted to his team's quarter-final defeat by France in Auckland by joking: “There's £35,000 just gone down the toilet.”
When asked about his England chances, Easter, who has won 47 caps, said: “No, not really. I've been playing well for a few years now and I've obviously not been able to open that door.
“I'm just concentrating on what I do here at Harlequins and hopefully we can come away with the title.”
Easter, who will be 37 when the next World Cup rolls around, said that he is unsure whether he will prolong his career beyond his Harlequins contract, which expires in the summer of 2015.
“I've got a year left on my contract and we will see what happens after that,” he said. “What I don't want to do is keep trying to flog myself and then you start becoming second or third-choice. I'd like to finish on my terms and that's a decision I have to make when my contract is up for renewal.”
For Easter, it will be his first trip to Bermuda and, despite the congenial atmosphere expected for the star-studded match between Saracens and the Bermuda Select XV, he is adamant that there will be plenty of thrills and spills to entertain the crowd.
“It will probably be a proper old-school tour, with a game of rugby at the end of it,” Easter said. “It will be good to have a bit of free time in a relaxed atmosphere. It should be a bit of a throwback to the amateur days when that probably took precedent over the training and preparation.
“Bermuda is also a place I have never been to before, so that's quite exciting as well.
“[The match] will give the Bermudian public the chance to watch some top players still in their prime. Although Saracens will be missing some of their stars, it should be a good game of rugby, a much more intense and meaningful game than what [Bermuda is] used to.
Bermuda Select XV confirmed players
Paul Doran Jones (Harlequins and England); Marc Jones (Sale Sharks and Wales); Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon and Italy); Eifion Lewis Roberts (Sale Sharks); Nick Kennedy (Harlequins and England); Robert Sidoli (Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales); Anton van Zyl (Stade Français); Thomas Waldrom (Leicester, Exeter Chiefs and England); Julian Salvi (Leicester and Australia A); Nick Easter (Harlequins and England); Richie Rees (Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales); Olly Barkley (Scarlets and England); Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks and England); Horacio Agulla (Bath and Argentina); Ross Curle (Glasgow Warriors); Shane Geraghty (London Irish and England); Tom Biggs (Bath); Will Harries (Newport Gwent Dragons and Wales).