Losing to Leicester Tigers last weekend in the quarterfinals of the Powergen Cup was disappointing, but is was no disgrace.
With Leicester back to full strength, with the exception of Austin Healey, they played very well, and if they were to continue in that manner they would be favourites for the Zurich Championship and Heineken Cup.
It was a highly technical and a high quality game; a match in which there were very few unforced errors made by either side. The difference in the end came down to the last 20 minutes, when they were able to bring on Darren Garforth, Perry Freshwater, Neil Back and Steve Booth. If we had the bench available that came on against Leeds Tykes in the last round, we may well have nicked the result.
It was also a hard physical encounter, with neither side flinching in the physical challenge, but that is what it is like when you play at the highest level. You have to compete in the tackle area, be strong and knock the opposition backwards. We were able to dominate the Leicester lineout - they threw only one ball all day to Ben Kay - and also compete in the tackle area; unfortunately it was not quite enough. Leicester remain the best team in the Premiership when they have their full compliment of players, as they did last Saturday.
This Saturday we return to Zurich Premiership action with an important away game against Newcastle at Kingston Park. Despite their league position, this will be a very difficult fixture. They have a fit again Jonny Wilkinson in their ranks, as well as various new recruits brought in from the Southern Hemisphere. We know only too well from our exploits of last season the pressure that everyone at Newcastle will be feeling at the present time - it will not be pleasant.
We are only to well aware that Newcastle are the last current Premiership team that we beat away from home in the league, back on 6th March 2001. We have done lots of talking over recent weeks as to why this is. Well Saturday is the time to put those words into action and look to move into the top half of the table.
With the exception of Ben Gollings, who is away with the England Sevens squad, it will be the same starting XV that played against Leicester, with Matt Moore replacing Ben. On the bench, both Chris Bell and Bruce Starr will return from injury.
Following our exit from the Powergen Cup, it has now been confirmed that the re-arranged fixture away to Bristol Shoguns will take place on Sunday 2nd March 2003, kick-off 3.00pm.
This is an important weekend for NEC Harlequins. A win over Newcastle will move us up into the top half of the table and allow us the opportunity to challenge for the play-off places. It will not be easy, it never is, but I for one am looking forward to travelling to my native North East home and coming away having watched a performance by Quins every bit as good as the one against Leicester last weekend. We play like that again and we should get the four points.
To those of you travelling to the game, see you in the sunny Newcastle!
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.