Former England Sevens captain believes Harlequins can reach Europe but Premiership top four is step too far

Harlequins lack the strength in depth to challenge for the Premiership top four, according to Ollie Phillips, but he believes Europe is possible under Paul Gustard.

The Londoners opened the season with a thrilling victory over Sale Sharks at the Stoop before slipping to three consecutive Gallagher Premiership defeats.

But Phillips, who came through the Harlequins academy ranks, remains positive about Quins’ potential under the guidance of the former England defence coach.

And while the former Newcastle Falcons and Gloucester winger thinks the top four is out of their reach, he is expecting the club to improve on their tenth-place finish last season.

“I think Gustard is a great coach and I think he’s gone to a great side,” said Phillips.

“I don’t think they’ve got enough quality in their team to truly challenge for title honours.

“Equally I think you can clearly see from some of the players that they’ve got that Quins can always spring a surprise, they just lack the depth the other squads have got now.

“They can’t truly sustain a full-blown season and I think for them, qualification for Europe must be their primary focus and if they can sneak in the top four that’s great.”

Phillips, who captained England sevens and was named the best in the world in 2009, has also warned Quins to guard against overplaying Marcus Smith at such an early stage in his career.

The fly-half demonstrated his class as he scored 26 points in a commanding performance against Sale in the 51-23 victory, but Phillips said the club must manage him carefully.

“Marcus Smith is still young, he’s only in his second proper season and I think he’s 19,” he said.

“Yes, he’s a great young player, a massive talent, but he’s not going to be your title-winning person.

“You have to nurture that talent and not exhaust it. They don’t want to knacker him out, that’s the main thing, so they need to be careful how they manage him.”

Phillips was speaking as he prepares to take on his toughest challenge yet for children’s charity Wooden Spoon – scaling Mount Everest to break two Guinness World Records.

He will lead one of four teams, alongside Wales legend Shane Williams, up the mountain to play the highest game of full contact rugby and the highest game of touch rugby.

Joining the rugby stars will be challengers from the West Midlands, Wiltshire, Sussex, Surrey, Yorkshire, Bristol, Berkshire, London, Kent, Hampshire, Suffolk, Devon, Wales and Somerset.

It is hoped the challenge will raise £200,000 for Wooden Spoon to help fund projects that support disadvantaged children and young people with disabilities across the UK & Ireland.

“I love these sorts of challenges and Wooden Spoon is a charity I’ve supported for nearly 16 years now, so it’s a charity that is very close to my heart,” added Phillips.

“When the opportunity came around and we started discussing could we do it, could we play the highest game, could we raise a lot of money, it was a no-brainer for me.

“What a fabulous opportunity to go and do something, that typically is not probably an area I would go to on a holiday, you need an incentive to go up and this was as good as any.

“It’s a notorious mountain, being the highest in the world, and there have been so many stories around it and attempts to summit it, successful ones and unsuccessful ones.

“I think what’s so intriguing about this challenge is what we’re going to do has never been done before, so that comes with a certain air of trepidation and nerves.”

Support us in the LMAX Exchange Everest Rugby Challenge to help change the lives of children and young people with disabilities and facing disadvantage across the UK and Ireland – visit #everestrugby

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