Uncontested scrums are probably the most disappointing sight on the pitch in a game of rugby union. In a physical contact sport, to see two forward packs just leaning against each other to re-start a game was far from satisfactory, but that is what we saw at the Madejski Stadium last Sunday.
This is not a criticism of London Irish, as they suffered three genuine front row injuries. After all, if they had wanted to reduce the scrum to such a spectacle, I am sure they would have done so before we had the opportunity to push them over the line five minutes into the second half.
Of course the result on Sunday was far from pleasing, draws never are, although at least with Newcastle and Leicester also sharing the points, we are still in a position to finish fifth in the Zurich Premiership table if we perform in our last three games.
This Sunday however we face a completely different challenge when we take on Connacht in the first leg of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup semi-final. Connacht may be the 'unfashionable' province of Irish rugby, but this season they have achieved some tremendous results. In the Parker Pen Challenge Cup they have beaten Beziers, Pau and Narbonne to reach the semi-final, while in the Celtic League they have had recent success against Leinster, the Ospreys and the Scottish provinces, as well as a draw against Heineken Cup quarterfinalists Llanelli.
Although not a team full of 'star names' in the accepted sense, Connacht do have some fine players. Led by former Ireland fly half Eric Elwood, there are a number of players to look out for. Current Irish squad members Bernard Jackman (hooker) and Darren Yapp (centre) are the obvious choices, but other players such as Peter Bracken (prop), Damian Browne (second row), Michael Swift (flanker), Conor McPhillips (winger) and Mark McHugh (centre) will all cause us problems over the two legs.
We have seen a lot of Connacht over the last few weeks; they are a good team who thoroughly deserve to be in the semi-final of this competition, and with the incentive of qualifying for the Heineken Cup at the expense of one of their more 'illustrious' neighbours, we know they will provide us with formidable opposition.
After announcing last week that both Paul Burke and George Harder were fit to start against London Irish, it was extremely disappointing that neither was able to take the field. In both cases, this had nothing to do with their original injury. Both are expected to start this weekend though. However, we will be without Pat Sanderson who has a shoulder injury which he aggravated against London Irish. Roy Winters will take his place in the back row.
As has been reported this week, Pat Sanderson will be leaving NEC Harlequins at the end of the season. We offered Pat a new contract some time ago but he has decided to accept an offer from Worcester, and we wish him well with this new opportunity once his contract with Quins is up at the end of May.
On Monday evening (13th April) our Second XV also have a big game against Northampton Saints at the Stoop, in the first leg of the Zurich A League final, kick-off 7.30pm. The team has been superbly led by Luke Sherriff and they deserve every bit of your support in what is sure to be a tremendous game against the Saints.
First though we have the first half of our semi-final against Connacht. There is sure to be lots of support for the Irish team, so I will expect the Quins supporters to match and beat their own challenge off the pitch in giving the team your usual tremendous backing.
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.