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Much-changed line-up shows Quins now have other priorities

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Star performer: Elia Elia had Ulster in all sorts of difficulty
Star performer: Elia Elia had Ulster in all sorts of difficulty

By Michael Sadlier

Elia Elia's chest-puffing strut said it all.

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The hooker's second try in three minutes had seen Harlequins register 12 unanswered points, which then became 14 after Marcus Smith's conversion, to take complete control of last weekend's game.

In fairness, Elia's post-try celebration wasn't simply a pose to raise the hackles of the home crowd as Quins had just gone from their own try-line to create the score of the day, and one worthy of winning the tie as well.

Hardly surprising, then, that the game's outstanding player had his fingerprints all over Quins' third try as Alex Dombrandt charged up to intercept John Cooney's pass to Marcell Coetzee and then set off into open country.

Ulster's scramble defence was decent enough, except that Elia had spotted a gap at the side of a ruck and shot through. At 24-15 ahead, Quins looked to have the home side killed off and were ready to embrace a vital away win.

And yet, somehow, Ulster were the only ones to score again, racking up 10 points without reply, with Cooney's late long-range kick confining the London side to a losing bonus point.

Afterwards, Quins coach Paul Gustard didn't really fall back on delivering avoidance-tactic clichés. He was not a happy man, which probably meant that Quins' post-match review was hardly a pleasant experience.

Gustard talked about having given Ulster "the fright of their lives", which seemed fair enough, and he was also insisting that Quins were not out of the group after two away defeats, though they definitely will be should they finish second this evening at The Stoop.

So, the indicators were that Quins were going to go all out at home to try and reverse an undeserved result in Belfast.

And yet their selection suggests that the Londoners have already reckoned that they have more important affairs to deal with than essentially chasing shadows in Europe.

No Joe Marler. No Marcus Smith. No Danny Care. No Chris Robshaw. No Gabriel Ibitoye.

Centre Michele Campagnaro didn't make it because of injury but Marler, Care, Robshaw etc have just not been picked.

And Gustard's reaction?

"It is a great opportunity for a couple of our players who are returning from injury to move the jersey forward in what is a must-win game for us if we are to have a chance of competing in this competition," he said.

Perhaps the most telling evidence which may have influenced Gustard's thinking comes from the Premiership and Quins' next two games.

Wasps away and Leicester Tigers at home are both matches that Quins - in eighth with just two wins in five - know are truly non-negotiable must-wins.

With Wasps and the Tigers below Quins in the table by five and six points respectively, it seems that this may have had more than just a passing interest for Gustard and co.

Anyway, former Ulster player Brett Herron is the most striking selection at out-half, while Quins are certainly not weak in certain areas, with Dombrandt going again as well as Kyle Sinckler and Semi Kunatani, while Vereniki Goneva gets a start.

They are strong, but Quins are clearly keeping some of their powder dry for other targets.

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