This is the Big One. Round 9 of the Aviva Premiership and we are hosting Saracens at a sold-out Stoop this afternoon. I love the atmosphere that gradually builds up all week before one of these crunch games and, with Sarries the runaway league leaders (unbeaten in all competitions so far this term) and Quins just up into third place, this is going to be one of the clashes of the season. In fact, it’s a hell of a weekend for the English Premiership clubs – serious match-ups across the board and many elite players hoping to use their games to impress and gain a call from Eddie Jones in a few days’ time to join his first England Six Nations squad.
On home match days – like all family men – I have to get through a certain number, two in my case, of familiar ‘Saturday’ chores before I get a pass for the afternoon: (1) two cups of tea, the Sun newspaper and copies of OK and Now magazines served to She Who Must Be Obeyed in bed at 7.30am on the dot; and (2) the family food shop for the weekend.
It’s now rising 11.30am and I’ve just returned from doing the second – actually it was a pretty easy effort this time because – unexpectedly – there were not many cars or people out today in the vicinity of Waitrose.
Thus far my other half has been relatively quiet this morning and is currently browsing her Twitter account on which she mainly follows Piers Morgan, Stephen Fry and Katie Price. Upon my return she did ask what my schedule is – i.e. when am I leaving for the game etc. – and I mentioned in response that I wasn’t quite decided yet, but thought I might pop in at the Sussex Arms for a quick one. At this I noted the immediate warning sign of a slight intake of breath and a raised left eyebrow followed by “You’re not meeting up with Steve are you?” in a tone that immediately conveys threat.
Steve is my charming but ne’er-do-well fan of rugby and drink (but not necessarily in that order) who is often to be found in the Sussex before the game … and is well known for being unable to pass the Twickenham Brewery site, which lies on the ‘underpass’ walking route to the ground, without stopping off for ‘just the one’ (or three) before continuing.
The Memsaab – albeit I have to say with a smile – then reminded me that it had been after the corresponding fixture last year, almost exactly twelve months ago, that I was banned from going to the rugby with Steve.
After some degree of lubrication-intake on the way from the Sussex, via the Twickenham Brewery, and then in a couple of bars actually at the Stoop, Steve and I – well, Steve actually – had idea that it might be worth walking back to the Turks’ Head at St Margaret’s just ‘to see if anyone was there, and possibly to have a sharpener before going home’.
Although the memsaab had given me the deadline of being back home by 6.30pm in readiness for our evening meal, she had been prepared to allow a little bit of latitude on that time because I was on a ‘boys day out’. However, shortly after 8.00pm, she had received a call on her mobile from Steve which – after a cheery opening ‘how are you’ section – went on with Steve continuing:
“Just to let you know that Derek and I are in the Turk’s – and don’t worry, I’ll have him home by midnight …”
Even now I can recall vividly the surprise, tinged with amusement, among the lads in our lounge bar group only about eight minutes later when the pub door blew open and I was unceremoniously ‘hooked’ and frog-marched outside to her car.
We can laugh about it now, of course. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the rest of that evening although I am told I was left to ‘sleep it off’ lying face down on the drawing-room sofa.
Still, back to today’s game.
One thing is now bothering me slightly. After making myself a cup of Bovril, I’ve been flicking through the newspapers and in the Daily Telegraph the match preview mentions that Quins have only beaten Sarries once in the last fourteen attempts …
It may be a long afternoon.