Back-up boys step up for Quins
Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea praised his second string players.
Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea praised his second string players as the English champions remained top of the Premiership table with a 28-25 win at home to Gloucester on Saturday.
Quins went into the match without club and England captain Chris Robshaw, while wing Ugo Monye, scrum-half Danny Care and prop Joe Marler had also been called up into Stuart Lancaster's squad ahead of the start of next week's November Test programme, against Fiji, and were unavailable as well.
But Karl Dickson produced a Care-like 'tap and go' penalty to create a try for centre Matt Cooper while Sam Smith, deputising for Monye, scored an interception try and Mark Lambert, in for Marler, did not let his side down with a lively display up front.
"I thought the lads really stepped up," said O'Shea.
The former Ireland fullback also praised the contributions of Nick Easter, the England No.8 who captained Quins in Robshaw's absence, and fullback Mike Brown, who responded to his release from the England training camp earlier this week by scoring the first try of the match.
"Nick is an outstanding leader and Brown reacted phenomenally in the way he played tonight," said O'Shea. "His involvement in the game was huge.
"He's absolutely outstanding in the fundamentals of fullback play, he scores tries, he takes responsibility.
"I hope he gets the opportunity to play at home in a Test match from the start over these next few weeks.
"I'm not saying anything against Ben Foden, who is a great player - injured - and Alex Goode, in outstanding form, but Mike Brown for two years has been absolutely the best fullback in the country."
Gloucester salvaged a bonus point late on thanks to a try from centre Billy Twelvetrees in a match where they were twice down to 14 men after Shane Monahan and Ben Morgan were both sent to the sin-bin.
"We got sucker-punched for those three tries," said rueful Gloucester captain Mike Tindall.
"They were the things you get from Quins," the 2003 World Cup-winning former England centre added.
"We absorbed so much pressure but showed what we are about when we went down to 14 men for the second time but then produced that late try."
While some 63 players are set to be unavailable across the Premiership because of this month's international programme, Leicester will the hardest hit with 13 absentees - eight to England and five to other national sides.
But the Tigers still managed to beat Midlands rivals Northampton 16-12 on Saturday even though teenage flyhalf George Ford, in for England's Toby Flood, missed five penalties.
However, Leicester boss Richard Cockerill insisted what Ford needed now was encouragement and not criticism.
"George is a very good player," said Cockerill. "He had an off day with the boot, but he did some very good things with ball in hand.
"I will put my arm around him and encourage him, and we will carry on.
"We all know young players are going to make mistakes, and George made mistakes."
Ford did though score 11 points with Matt Smith's second half try helping the Tigers tame the Saints, who saw Ryan Lamb kick four penalties.