Harlequins boss Dean Richards refused to get carried away after seeing his side go top of the Premiership for the first time in nearly six years after Wednesday’s 60-14 thrashing of Worcester. Quins ran in 10 tries at their Stoop home ground, including a hat-trick in 12 minutes from England No. 8 Nick Easter to go above Bath and Leicester on points difference.
But for several seasons now the English title has been decided by the winners of a play-off tournament rather than the side that tops the table come the end of the regular season.
And with five teams separated by just two points at the top of the 12-team Premiership, ex-England No. 8 Richards focus is solely on playoff qualification.
“Being top is irrelevent when we have three tough games to go. If we are in the top four at the end of the season then I will be happy,” Richards said.
“We have still got to go away to Sale, Bath are Heineken [European] Cup quarter-finalists and Newcastle are not the pushovers they were six months ago,” he said.
“All these England boys are coming back to us now and they are desperate to play. There is a real ambition to achieve something this year. The side has matured a long way from last year. If you are saying first is great, it is not. You achieve nothing with three games to go,” Richards said.
Worcester, who had five players making their full league debuts, are still nine points above Bristol, the basement club who currently occupy the sole relegation spot.
Bath stayed in the hunt with a 22-14 win over Wasps that all but ended the reigning champions’ hopes of a successful title defense. But the game was overshadowed by a neck injury to Michael Lipman, the Bath captain, which saw the England flanker taken to hospital after nine minutes of on-field treatment.
“The best case scenario is it is a whiplash injury. It is not concussion,” Bath coach Steve Meehan said. “He is a brave player, and brave players get into positions and put their teams first.”
South Africa World Cup winner Butch James guided Bath to victory with 17 points.