HARLEQUINS director of rugby Conor O’Shea has rejected the tag of favourites ahead of today’s LV= Cup final against Sale at Sixways.
Quins are looking to secure the first of a potential trio of trophies when they meet a Sale side struggling near the foot of the Aviva Premiership table.
The defending Premiership champions are in a strong position as they seek to retain their crown, and are also in the last-eight of the Heineken Cup.
The London club have already shown their final pedigree after securing Amlin Challenge Cup glory in 2011 and beating Leicester at Twickenham to lift the league title last May.
Sale, meanwhile, were bottom of the Premiership until London Welsh were last week docked five points for fielding an ineligible player – a decision the Exiles have appealed. They have also lost their last six meetings with Quins.
While Quins have not lost at Sixways for nine years, Sale’s recent record at the Worcester ground is less impressive, with three straight defeats. And in the sides’ five previous knockout cup meetings, Sale have been victorious only once – the 1997 Pilkington Cup semi-final at Heywood Road
But O’Shea believes league positions will have no bearing on who lifts the season’s first silverware.
He told Harlequins TV: “It’s not about favourites, they have got some energy from the London Welsh decision and they have some outstanding players as they showed in their performance against Saracens in the semi-final.
“They have players like Andy Powell, James Gaskell, Jonny Leota in the centre and Sam Tuitupou is coming back, and we know they play a style that is good to watch.”
And O’Shea has encouraged his side to focus on their performance, and let the result take care of itself.
“We say to the players that it’s not just about winning,” he said. “We want to win – we are not stupid in that sense – and we know we are judged on results.
“But we know what gets results, and that’s our performances. So we want to enjoy, put our game out there and see where it takes us.”
O’Shea has rewarded the XV who saw off Bath in last weekend’s semi-finals by sticking with the same starting line-up. There is one change among the replacements, which sees James Johnston coming in for Kyle Sinckler who is away with the England U20s in Wales.
With 14 of the match-day squad having lifted the Aviva A League title in December, and 15 being under 23 years of age, they are building a squad in which all age groups are becoming used to success.
Sale, playing in their first major final since 2006 – when they beat Leicester Tigers in the Premiership Final at Twickenham – move Nick Macleod to full-back as Will Addison comes into the centre.
Nathan Fowles gets the nod at scrum-half while Scotland’s Alasdair Dickinson joins Marc Jones and Tony Buckley in the front row. After losing 28-34 in the opening group game at London Irish, Sale have gone on to beat Saracens twice, Wasps at Adams Park and Scarlets at the Salford City Stadium to reach the final for the first time.
Sale, under head coach Bryan Redpath, have used 45 players in reaching the final with Tony Buckley, Danny Cipriani, Ross Harrison and Tommy Taylor featuring in every game. Sale have scored 17 tries in the competition with Cipriani top try scorer with three. Cipriani has scored 64 points, just two behind leader Ben Botica of Quins.