Three years ago today (20th May 2001) saw NEC Harlequins defeat Narbonne in the European Shield Final at the Madejski Stadium. In a terrific match that needed extra time to sort out a winner, a drop goal from Paul Burke minutes from the end put Quins two scores clear (42-33) and finally settled the outcome. In 48 hours time (22nd May), Quins make another trip to the Madejski Stadium this time to face Montferrand in the final of the competition, now known as the Parker Pen Challenge Cup.
Whilst Pat Sanderson was named man-of-the-match against Narbonne, Burke was a very close second as the fly half ended the game with a personal tally of 27 points; converting nine kicks at goal from nine attempts and rounding things off with the match winning drop goal. Needless to say, it's a day he has fond memories of.
"It's certainly a match I'll never forget; it was an unbelievable game and result," said Burke. "For me personally, to come away with 27 points, nine out of nine kicks and the drop goal, it was a performance I would rate as being one of my very best. It was one of those days that you dream of but it's why you put in all the hours of practice. You can never foresee something like that happening and it's a dream scenario to do it in a cup final."
Burke has recovered from a groin injury that has forced him to miss Quins last two matches against Northampton Saints (8th May) and Leicester Tigers (15th May), and starts at fly half against Montferrand this weekend. The former Irish international believes that Quins French opponents this time around will be a tougher nut to crack than Narbonne.
"On paper at least, Montferrand have a more established squad than Narbonne, with a lot more experienced players. They have a big abrasive pack of forwards, as well as a number of dangerous and powerful running backs."
"There's no question that it is going to be a difficult match for us and one in which if we don't play well then we will not get the result we are looking for. However, it is a cup final and recent records and performances go out the window. It comes down to who performs on the day and handles the pressure of the big occasion."
After spending four years at Quins, Burke will be playing for Munster next season and is hoping that Saturday will be his last game in the famous multi-coloured jersey. However, if Quins were to lose to Montferrand and Wasps defeat Toulouse in the Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham on Sunday (23rd May), then Quins would face Sale Sharks in the Zurich Wildcard Final at Twickenham the following week (29th May); a match Burke is hoping Quins don't have to be part of.
"We don't want to go another week and I want Saturday to be my last game. It has been a long season and we don't want to think about the prospect of playing in the Wildcard final, which means we have to go out and do a job this weekend. I can't think of a better way to sign off then by helping Quins to win on Saturday and secure a place in next seasons Heineken Cup."
*NB - Tickets for the Parker Pen Challenge Cup Final are available from the Madejski Stadium ticket hotline on 0118 968 1000.
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.