When I took my place in the stand before our game against Saracens last Saturday, I was talking to some people in front of me, welcoming them to another journey on the NEC Harlequins rollercoaster. Little did I know that some 80 minutes later that I would be regretting those word's, as we watched a comfortable 13-point lead almost disappear inside the last six minutes and that we would win the game on the back of a late Paul Burke penalty!
I am not sure about you, but I do not think I have ever been as emotionally drained after a game as I was last Saturday. I know that for both Mark Evans and myself, and for a number of the player's, having spent a number of years at Saracens it does mean a lot to beat them but those last six minutes were crazy.
The dressing room after the game was very quiet - people not quite sure they could comprehend what had gone on. However, after the week we had had, with just one training session on the Friday due to injuries, we would have gladly accepted the four points for the win and then move on to Stade Francais in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup this weekend.
The injury news is much better this week. It looks likely that Nick Duncombe, Chris Bell and Pat Sanderson will all return to the squad from injury. With Ben Gollings away in Dubai with the England Sevens squad, Rob Jewell is likely to get the opportunity on the wing. In the pack, Alex Codling has a badly bruised foot and may miss out on this weekend's action, which means that Jim Evans will get another opportunity in the second row.
The team will be captained by Jason Leonard as the Parker Pen Challenge Cup regulations do not allow us to play Andre Vos, as we were unable to register him in time for the competition as he was still playing in South Africa. This is a great shame for Quins and also for the competition. It would be a great boost to the Parker Pen Challenge Cup to see World Class performers such as Andre in action! I am sure the competitions sponsors would agree.
Stade Francais - Heineken Cup finalists and semi-finalists in the last two years, and clearly one of the giants of European rugby. They have a squad packed full of internationals. Fabien Galthie at scrum half, Pieter De Villiers at tight head prop, Sylvian Marconnet at loose head prop, Stephane Glas at centre, on the wing Christophe Dominichi and at fly half Diego Domingueuz - these are just a few of the stars that may be appearing at the Stoop this Saturday afternoon.
It will be a massive game for both teams and having let ourselves down against Munster so badly last season, this is a great opportunity to pit ourselves against another giant of European rugby. It is an exciting challenge, one I know Mark and the coaching team as well as all the players are very excited about and looking forward too. Andre has given us the inside knowledge on Stade's coach Nick Mallet, whom he played under when he captained South Africa.
Behind the scenes, I am pleased to confirm that Karl Rudzki has signed a new contract that will keep him at the Stoop until at least June 2005. Along with the recent signing of Jim Evans, this means that we have a strong set of second row's in place, alongside Alex Codling, for the next few years.
In a different guise, the Parker Pen Challenge Cup is a competition we have won before. Many of you will remember the game against Narbonne at The Madejski Stadium in May 2001 and the party at the Stoop afterwards. If we are to reach the final again, Saturday's opponents are a huge mountain that we have to overcome.
As we all know, our record at the Stoop recently has been very good. Let us hope that we can continue this run and take an advantage to Paris for the return leg the following week.
Look forward to seeing yet another big crowd at the Stoop this Saturday.
Harlequins fan Ed Atkin won the Etihad Airways 'Up and Under' competition at the Northampton Saints game. As a result, he and a friend have won a holiday to Abu Dhabi courtesy of Etihad Airways and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.