Danny Care believes Saturday could be Harlequins best chance to win the Gallagher Premiership for a while with Saracens set to return to the division next season.
The scrum-half will start this weekend’s play-off final against Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham and attempt to help his club add to their solitary league triumph from 2012.
Saracens clinched the Premiership four times in five years before they were relegated in 2020 following a hefty points deduction for repeated salary cap breaches, but an instant return was sealed earlier in June after victory in a two-legged Greene King IPA Championship final over Ealing.
Ex-England international Care believes their London rivals will be favourites to secure more silverware next season and it adds to the feeling at Harlequins that this is their year.
“Yeah, I saw Saracens’ two training run throughs the last couple of weeks. It was never in doubt,” the 34-year-old admitted.
“I knew they would come straight back and I would have them as favourites to win the Premiership next year, I honestly would because of the players they have got and probably what they have gone through over the last year has brought them even closer together as a squad.
“They have still got some of the very best players in the world and I am glad they weren’t in the league this year because those semi-finals would have been a lot harder to get into! But they will be top of the tree next year and fighting for the Premiership.
“So that is something, I am not afraid to say this is the year to win the league because Saracens are not in it.”
Harlequins making the Premiership final in itself is a remarkable feat, with last Saturday’s extraordinary semi-final comeback at Bristol just one chapter in a crazy story.
Back in January the club parted company with head of rugby Paul Gustard after only two wins from their opening seven matches and a coaching unit of Billy Millard, Jerry Flannery, Nick Evans and Adam Jones have produced a fine turnaround.
A low point over the winter was a 49-7 humbling at the hands of Racing 92 in the Heineken Champions Cup which had Care questioning “am I a good rugby player or not?” and he revealed: “We have massively changed the way we train.
“We are not in as many days which you are going to get a buy in from lads if you are offering them less days but when we train, we train really intensely and we have fun.
“What we have done in training is go back to basics and get players comfortable with ball in hand, especially our forwards and I think that has correlated on the pitch.
“Definitely what we have worked hard on is bearing fruit on the weekends and I just hope when people watch Quins now they see those smiles back on our faces which is all we kind of want to do.”
Even before Saturday’s events at Ashton Gate, the Twickenham Stoop outfit had garnered a reputation for being comeback kings with recent dramatic victories over London Irish and Wasps.
Yet after trailing 28-0 as the first half was drawing to a close, no one could have predicted what would happen during the next 60 minutes of rugby in Bristol.
With “500 Ultras” cheering them on, Quins ran in seven tries to complete the biggest comeback in Premiership history and book at trip to a stadium half a mile away, but only 10,000 spectators will be present after the Government refused to grant the fixture test-event status – despite 20,000 tickets initially being sold.
Care added: “Our poor Quins fans have seen some dross for a few years and we finally get to a final and most of them can’t come.
“I am desperately sorry for that and as players, I would love to have 20 or 30 of my friends and family watch me in a final. I don’t know if this will be my last ever final so I won’t have that.
“I do feel rugby has taken a bit of a backseat and I am not sure why. In an 80,000-seater stadium and with how open Twickenham is, I don’t understand how you couldn’t have squeezed a few more people in there.”
Harlequins are going for a second Premiership win and Care and Joe Marler, who both started the final nine years ago, have been included in Saturday’s starting line-up while hooker Joe Gray is named among the replacements.
The suspended Mike Brown is also still at the club, which wracked up 748 league points this season with fly-half Marcus Smith contributing 278 of them.
It helped Harlequins claw back their entertainers tag but they want silverware to show for their efforts this term even if they are up against holders Exeter, who are playing in their sixth consecutive Premiership final.
“We have got that fire in our belly of we don’t want to be lads who just make a final, we want to be people who go on and win it,” Care said.
“I know how special that feeling is and I really, really want to do it again.”