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Saili adds potency to Quins’ midfield blend

Harlequins head coach Mark Mapletoft insists Jamie Roberts still has a big future at the club and expects the 96-cap Wales star to rise to the challenge posed by the arrival of marquee summer signing Francis Saili.

Former All Blacks and Auckland Blues star Saili has signed a long-term contract at the Stoop after helping Munster reach the PRO12 final, prompting some Quins fans to conclude that hard-hitting Roberts, 30, may be jettisoned.

Mapletoft confirmed that will not happen, telling TRP: “To be competitive in this league you need to have a big squad and guys who can offer a different blend.

“There’s no doubt Francis and Jamie are different types of players, so can they play together? Time will tell. Francis has played across the centres, while Jamie’s more of an up and down No.12 rather than a guy who can play at 13, but Jamie’s also very experienced.

“He’s been captaining Wales and that type of experience during key parts of the year will be invaluable. I hope Jamie will rise to the challenge.”

Mapletoft added: “Having come back from the disappointment of not playing in the Six Nations as much as he’d have liked, Jamie was excellent at the back end of last year and was defensively magnificent in our last game at Northampton.

“Missing out on the Lions will also have disappointed him, but he’s texted me a couple of times and he’s very excited about the new season. People can conclude what they want, but we’re looking forward to seeing these guys competing.”

With gifted centre Joe Marchant set to return after missing England’s summer tour due to a toe injury, Mapletoft is excited by his midifeld options.

He explained: “Given Francis’ pedigree in New Zealand, you’d hope it will be a great signing and his skill-set offers something a bit different. He’s got to get up to speed quickly but he does exciting things on the ball and that X-factor is what you need when space is limited.

“A lot of things revolve around attack having sway over defence and with Joe Marchant, Harry Sloan and Winston Stanley back fit we’re excited about seeing how the midfield blends.”

Meanwhile, Mapletoft is confident South African fly-half Demetri Catrakilis will meet the challenge of replacing club legend Nick Evans head-on.

“Demetri is a very competent operator,” Mapletoft said. “He’s an excellent kicker out of hand and at goal and if you’re trying to replace someone like Nick, he’s the person you need.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting players and I’d be disappointed if we didn’t use our sixth-placed finish as a springboard.”

NEALE HARVEY

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