Last week I described Stade Francais as one of the best three of four teams in Europe, alongside Leicester, Munster and perhaps Leinster.
On Saturday afternoon they beat us 26-0 at the Stoop, but were they really that good? On Saturday evening, as we reflected on the game, we felt we had been beaten by a better side. The video however, did not entirely back this up. We created four chances and failed to take any of them, indeed one of our chances led to Stade scoring their first seven points in the match. Stade hardly created anything themselves, but from three of our errors they scored two tries - game over!
Defensively they were very good, possibly the most organised team we have faced all season. Their lineout defence was also excellent, and caused us a number of problems that we had not faced previously this year.
However, the real crux of the game was our ball maintenance, or rather the lack of it. Time and time again we went through phases of play, bashing away at their defence, and rather than remain patient and wait for the gap, we would throw a 'hail mary' pass, or try to force a pass which was not on and give the ball away.
This weekend we travel to Paris for the second half of this tie, which a huge deficit to overcome. You can't go into the game with the aim of scoring 27 points more that the opposition, but what you must aim for, is to improve massively on our performance of last week. We must put Stade under the same pressure that they exerted on us last Saturday and look to win the game. Of course it will be difficult, Stade are playing at home and will want to play a more expansive game than many of you saw last week, but we must go out and win and restore some pride in ourselves and for our supporters.
On the injury front, Paul Burke is fit again and will return to the starting XV. Pat Sanderson came through the last 20 minutes on Saturday well and will start at open side this weekend. On the negative side, Bruce Starr has damaged his calf muscle in training and will be missing for a few weeks. His place on the bench goes to Pablo Cardinali. Injuries this season have been a real problem for us, but unfortunately they are a fact of life. Did you know Duncombe, Burke and Greenwood have yet to start a game together this season?
We expect to see Keith Wood back in training next week, along with Alex Codling and Nick Duncombe. Nick is almost right now following the hamstring injury he suffered against London Wasps, but the medical team do not want to take any chances with him this weekend. Dan Luger continues to progress well and we are awaiting the results of some tests done on his knee before seeing when he will return to action - but it should be soon.
I am told that there are over 400 Quins supporters are travelling to Paris this weekend, which is a tremendous effort by each and every one of them. Despite last weekend's disappointing performance we are all looking forward to taking on Stade in their own back yard; it will be a huge challenge, but the type of challenge that we should all look forward to!
On Monday (16th December 2002) we have a Second XV game against London Wasps at Aldershot, kick-off 7.30pm. It will be great to see some of you there if you want to avoid the Christmas Shopping.
If not, next Saturday (21st December 2002) we face Leeds Tykes in the Powergen Cup, kick-off 3pm, when we will be seeking revenge for our defeat in the league back in September.
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.