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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 06:25 GMT 07:25 UK
Confident Quins set sights high
By Bryn Palmer

Harlequins director of rugby Dean Richards
Richards is bullish about his side's chances of success
Harlequins rugby director Dean Richards believes his side can buck the trend of promoted clubs and challenge the elite on their return to the Premiership.

"Every other side that has come up has finished in the bottom two apart from Newcastle (in 1997/98), who bought their way to success," Richards said.

"But we have a reasonable side, nothing to lose and we will give it a real go.

"I don't want to be at the bottom and finish 11th or 12th. Hopefully we will be competitive right at the top."

A relegation struggle would certainly be a novelty for the former England number eight, who established Leicester as England's premier club with four consecutive league titles and two Heineken Cups from 1999-2002.

We are looking to compete in every competition, simple as that

Dean Richards
But 20 months after the last of those triumphs, he was unceremoniously axed by the club where he spent 23 years as a player and coach.

After a season coaching Grenoble in France, Richards returned to England last May to the unfamiliar surrounds of National League One, and the task of ensuring Quins' absence from the top flight was a brief one.

"There was a lot of doom and gloom when I arrived and Division One was not the nicest of places to be, but we made the best of it and acquitted ourselves very well," he said of a campaign that yielded just one defeat.

"The goal was to get back up and do something when we are back up."

Stuart Abbott in action for Wasps last season
Signing Abbott was a major coup
To that end, Richards has recruited 11 players - a mixture of international class in England centre Stuart Abbott and South African-born Welshman Hal Luscombe, emerging talent from League One and a proven Premiership performer in former Wasps flanker Paul Volley.

"It is a long season and there are certain things like injuries and international call-ups which affect things," Richards noted.

"But we are quite bullish about our strength-in-depth and believe the youngsters are capable of playing at this level. If we get a couple of injuries, we shouldn't worry about it."

Richards believes his old club Leicester and champions Sale start favourites for the title, and that Gloucester will be a force, but otherwise regards the league as "pretty open".

After an opening date with London Irish at Twickenham on 2 September, Gloucester will be Quins' first opponents at the Stoop - fixtures Richards regards as "probably our two most important games of the season".

This going to be one of the hardest seasons I have ever had

Quins captain Paul Volley
But unlike the likes of Worcester and Bristol, who have made no bones about prioritising Premiership survival above all else, Richards insists Quins will not be treating the European Challenge Cup and EDF Energy (Anglo-Welsh) Cup as of secondary importance.

"We are looking to compete in every competition, simple as that; there is no reason why we shouldn't," he added. "We have the strength-in-depth and quality of youngsters.

"I honestly believe we are capable of competing in every competition. I am quite looking forward to it."

He is not the only one. Volley, with three English titles and a Heineken Cup victory with Wasps to his name, admits he jumped at the chance of returning to the Premiership after two years with French side Castres.

"We all know it will be a dogfight, and this is going to be one of the hardest seasons I have ever had," he said. "But that is what we signed up for."



SEE ALSO
Ins and Outs
02 Aug 06 |  English
Quins seal return to Premiership
01 Apr 06 |  English
Richards aims to stir sleeping giant
10 May 05 |  Rugby Union
Richards in vow to take Quins up
09 May 05 |  English
Quins relegated from Premiership
30 Apr 05 |  English
Richards reveals angry exit
02 Jul 04 |  English


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