It has been a quiet week at our Aldershot training ground. With no game to play this weekend, a lot of effort has been put into analyzing our opposition over the next few weeks; Leeds Tykes (4th April 2003), Leicester Tigers (19th April 2003) and Gloucester (26th April 2003). However, there is not the same buzz around the place compared to when there is a match at the end of the week. In truth, the preparations for Leeds are well underway.
With England and Ireland playing the Grand Slam decider on Sunday, we will not have Will Greenwood, Jason Leonard and Dan Luger back in the fold at Aldershot until Tuesday. We will be traveling to Leeds on Thursday morning, so there will not be much time available next week to prepare.
On the injury front, although Paul Burke has withdrawn from the Ireland A side this week, he is expecting to take some part in rugby training on Friday and should be fully fit for the game against Leeds next Friday evening.
Both Bruce Starr and Laurent Gomez are recovering well from their respective injuries, although it is unlikely that either of them will be fit to face Leeds. Pat Sanderson continues to work well with the conditioning coaches and is well ahead of schedule in terms of making a full recovery from his shoulder operation.
Keith Wood is away with the Ireland squad this week, but I know from talking to him that he is continuing to work hard on his re-hab programme and that he will be seeing the consultant soon before hopefully moving on to the next stage of his re-hab.
With regards to the squad, I am pleased to confirm that our young hooker James Hayter has recently signed a new two-year contract with NEC Harlequins. James was very unfortunate when he first joined the club, picking up a serious foot injury that kept him out of action for almost 18 months. However, he has now played some seven second XV games and we are delighted that he has chosen to stay at Quins, and compete with both Tani Fuga and Ace Tiatia for the number two shirt.
Everyone is talking about the Grand Slam decider in Dublin this weekend. It will be a tremendous event, with Lansdowne Road packed to capacity of 45,000 screaming Irishmen looking to put one over on their English counterparts. Home advantage will mean a lot to the Irish, but you just sense that with the experience of recent disappointments behind them that the English team is confident that they will come away with a victory and the Grand Slam.
It will be a close game, of that there is little doubt, which has nothing to do with World Cup preparations and everything to do with winning!
One final comment with respect to Sunday; Jason Leonard will win his 102nd cap for England, making him the second most capped international player of all time, behind Philippe Sella, who won 111 caps for France. This is a fantastic achievement and we wish him, along with Will and Dan, all the very best for Sunday - sorry Keith!
In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the Supporters Party at the Stoop tomorrow evening (tickets are £10 if you do not have yours already) and I look forward to seeing some of you at Leeds next Friday evening.
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.