Work hard, play hard
Big Scott Quinnell, an ex-team mate at Wigan had an inspiring game for the Scarlets and was the Man of the Match.
For the return game, we knew that we could not progress further than the group stages so Coach Jim Mallinder rested a couple of players with niggling injuries, giving starts to Apollo Perelini and Richard Wilks who have been waiting patiently for their chance. It was good to see Alex Sanderson back in action too after his shoulder injury. Alex has picked up more than his share of bumps and bruises but he never takes a backward step and is a great team man.
We led at Stradey Park at half time thanks to tries by Graeme Bond and Apollo Perelini. After the break, Llanelli were kept at bay by a tremendous defensive display by the Sharks and they only went ahead five minutes from time.
Next it was Saracens in the Powergen Cup and after returning from England Duties, I started to prepare for the tough game at Vicarage Road.
Pardon the cliché but the game at Saracens was a game of two halves, we were under the cosh in the first half and left the field shell shocked at the interval. Straight after the break though, Phil Davies scored a try and then Charlie Hodgson, in his comeback game, scored another. We were closing the gap all the time but in the end Saracens ran out narrow winners and earned a trip to Gloucester in the Quarter Finals.
Christmas week saw us preparing for the game at Bristol and we were looking to make amends for our poor run of form in December. The weather though was the big factor and Bristol Shoguns big pack ran the game.
The Shoguns were out to make amends for their home defeat by Rotherham in the Powergen Cup and roared on by one of their biggest home gates of the season they beat us 18-6. Bristol are a better side than their Zurich Premiership placing shows, they have beaten Leicester at home this season and won two games in the Heineken Cup.
Four games played in December, four losses recorded did not make pleasant reading especially when bottom of the Premiership Newcastle Falcons were our next opponents. Jonny Wilkinson targeted this game as his comeback match following his battering in the Autumn test match against South Africa. The game was billed as Charlie Hodgson v Jonny Wilkinson and yet again the Sharks Supporters bought tickets well in advance to create a great atmosphere for the game.
Sadly Jonny wasn’t selected for the game, which may, in the long run prove to be a wise move with the Six Nations and World Cup around the corner. Jonny did have the consolation of being awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours list and is now the youngest rugby player to receive such an award. I have had the pleasure of playing with Jonny for England and the Lions and he is a great Ambassador for the game and I would like to add my congratulations on his award.
The game against the Falcons was tight early on but after half an hour we cut loose and scored five tries to earn the bonus point and keep us in second place in the Zurich Premiership. My try was special to me in that I haven’t scored many this season and that I have now recovered from a catalogue of bumps and bruises and feel normal again. During the game I could feel the temperature dropping and the pitch seemed to be hardening up with frost, which is always a sure way of keeping me on my feet!!! 2003 may well be the most important year in my playing career and I intend to work hard and play to the best of my ability all year. Who knows, 2003 may see England crowned World Champions and The Sharks adding to the trophy cabinet.