Alex Dombrandt offloads against Sale Sharks earlier this season

Credit: PA

If Harlequins ransack Ashton Gate on Saturday and then become Premiership champions the following weekend at Twickenham, we will have witnessed some expansive, exciting rugby.

Attack coach Nick Evans, fly-half for their title triumph in 2012, has already vowed that they will stay true to themselves – which is great news for neutrals craving entertainment.

Key to Harlequins’ qualification for the play-offs has been consistency of selection down the side’s spine since the departure of Paul Gustard. But an abrasive schedule is taking its toll. 

Scavenging openside flanker Will Evans, superb in something of a breakthrough campaign, is injured. Inside centre André Esterhuizen and full-back Mike Brown are suspended, although the former could return for a domestic decider.

Free from Test commitments, Joe Marler has enjoyed a fantastic season at loosehead prop. However, you sense Harlequins’ hopes rest on the in-form 8-9-10 axis of Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care and Marcus Smith. 

All three make the top five of this table by Opta, which details tries and scoring passes or kicks (assists) and which players have the highest percentage of those in relation to their club’s total of tries:

Highest percentage of try-scoring contributions over the Premiership season

There seems to be a razor-sharp, intuitive understanding between Dombrandt, Care and Smith. They are all skilful distributors and intelligent support players who are comfortable in space, which has been handy in warm conditions in fast-paced and fractured encounters.

When one slips through a gap, the others are usually close by. Here, against Sale back in February, Smith dummies and accelerates clear before feeding Dombrandt:

A few weeks later, Care follows up some slick interplay between his forwards to gather Dombrandt’s offload and score with his second touch of the phase:

When it comes to passes that have led to breaks over the Premiership season, Smith is way out on his own:

Passes leading to line-breaks in the 2020-21 Premiership season

He has been assured from the tee, too. Only Paddy Jackson of London Irish has accumulated a higher share of his team’s total of points:

Highest percentage of team points in 2020-21 Premiership season

These statistics also serve to underline how devastating AJ MacGinty’s injury could to the title prospects of Sale Sharks. The USA international had been excellent in guiding Alex Sanderson’s men to third place. 

Often, the destination of silverware is decided by which team has most of their influential individuals fit and available at the business end. On that score, Harlequins cannot be too disheartened at the moment.

While growing into a pragmatic playmaker, and kicking a great deal from hand in a bid to control territory, Smith has retained an evasive running threat – a potent one. Indeed, no player that has taken contact 20 times has evaded a higher proportion of tackles:

Highest proportion of tackles evaded in the 2020-21 Premiership season

This reflects sound decision-making as well. Smith has not often scurried down blind alleys. When he does keep ball in hand, he exudes conviction and beats opponents. 

Only one specialist fly-half, Jacob Umaga, was named in England’s 34-man training squad ahead of the ‘A’ international against Scotland later this month and Test meetings with Canada and USA.

You would think that Smith and Dombrandt will join Eddie Jones at some stage this summer. They will want to wait for at least a fortnight, though.