Guinness Premiership
Quins target Twickenham sell-out
December 28, 2008
Fireworks go off as the teams run out prior to kick-off during the Guinness Premiership match between Harlequins and Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in London, England on December 27, 2008.
Fireworks go off as the sides take to the field at Twickenham on Saturday © Getty Images
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Tournaments/Tours: English Premiership
Teams: England | Harlequins

Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans is determined to pack out Twickenham for next year's 'Big Game II'.

A restricted 50,000 capacity crowd watched a thrilling 26-26 Premiership draw between Quins and Leicester on Saturday and Evans is keen to build on the success of the self-tilted 'Big Game' with plans already underway for a similar event next year.

Evans is confident that a record Guinness Premiership crowd of 82,000 is well within reach and believes that if it had not been for a reduced local rail service the club would have sold upwards of 60,000 tickets for yesterday's game.

The 50,000 figure, meanwhile, is a new crowd-best for a single regular season Premiership fixture.

"We were capped at 50,000, which meant we sold out a week in advance," said Evans. "I wonder how many we would have got? We didn't have a walk-up and we didn't have last-week sales, which are usually in five figures.

"We have a three-year deal with the Rugby Football Union. 'Big Game II' will happen, 'Big Game III' will happen, and we hope by then we will establish it as the big London Christmas sporting event. Let's hope next year we can have a real go at 'Big Game II' and maybe fill Twickenham. I really think we can."

England winger Ugo Monye pounced for a late score that was converted from the touchline by fly-half Nick Evans to ensure Quins and Leicester shared the spoils. The Tigers had led 23-9 through tries from Tom Croft and Johne Murphy.

"This is a side which never gives up, a side with a huge amount of character," said Quins rugby director Dean Richards. "Teams are finding out that we are a difficult nut to crack. There is a resilience that wasn't there last year, or the year before."

Bath scrum-half Michael Claassens scored two tries in a 25-14 victory over Northampton at The Rec to propel them back to the top of the table but head coach Steve Meehan found plenty of room for improvement. "I don't think we will be overly-pleased with that performance."

London Irish began the weekend in pole position but suffered their first Premiership defeat since mid-September against Saracens in front of more than 16,000 fans at Vicarage Road. Scrum-half Moses Rauluni scored Sarries' only try in their narrow 16-13 triumph and director of rugby Eddie Jones urged his side to capitalise on the win.

"What we need to gain is the belief that the way were are playing the game and the talent we have got in the team is good enough to win the competition," Jones said. "We are good enough to win it, we have got to start believing it. They are the top team in the league, we beat them today and there is no reason why we can't go and do that but we have got to back ourselves."

Irish boss Toby Booth reflected on the end of his side's unbeaten run and admitted that they contributed to their own downfall adding, "I think it was a big wake-up call for everyone in the Premiership that if you are ten per cent off what you need to be, then you are going to come second.

"Saracens were very, very good in certain aspects. They bullied us at the contact area - we couldn't get any rhythm or control. Our performances this week and last week (Irish smashed Gloucester 42-12) are worlds apart. It is very disappointing."

Bristol's Premiership survival hopes suffered another setback as a 29-10 home defeat against west country rivals Gloucester left them three points adrift of 11th-placed Newcastle. However there was some good news for the Premiership's basement side with confirmation that their short-term financial future is secure after a much-needed cash injection followed a public appeal for funds by club chief executive Steve Gorvett.

Gloucester consolidated third place in the table with centre Mike Tindall scoring two of his side's four tries and head coach Dean Ryan was pleased with the way his side bounced back from their heavy defeat against London Irish last time out. "I am pretty happy with where we are," said Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan. "If we can push on from here, then we have a good chance of being in the mix."

Newcastle were held 16-16 at home by Worcester, and their February 13 trip to Bristol could prove significant in terms of the relegation battle. The Falcons led 13-3, but Worcester captain Pat Sanderson's try 11 minutes from time helped ensure a share of the spoils.

Warriors rugby director Mike Ruddock said: "We were very disciplined, and I was very pleased with the character we showed at the end when Newcastle were coming at us. We needed to get something out of the game, and to come back from 13-3 down to get a draw is a real plaudit to the players. We stayed calm and composed and showed great character. We hope we can keep playing like that and move up the league. I thought both sides contributed to what was a full-blooded Premiership encounter."

In the opening game of Round 10, Sale powered past Wasps 31-3 at Edgeley Road on Friday night. Captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe scored two tries for the Sharks with Mark Cueto and Charlie Hodgson also dotting down.

Sale director of rugby Phillippe Saint-Andre hailed his improving side after they bounced back from their demoralising loss to Bath last time out. "I'm pleased after the disappointment of the robbery of last week," he said.

"We tried to be consistent, we tried a lot of things, we showed a lot of confidence, we took some risks. We tried to play rugby in front of a good crowd and scored four tries. I don't think a lot of teams in the Premiership can do this with the flair that we can. We're in good form and shape, we look fit and confident, and have a fantastic spirit in the camp. We've got good focus and I've seen my team get better every week for five weeks."

Wasps coach Shaun Edwards offered no excuses in defeat, "It was quite evident we were outplayed in every department by the form team in the Premiership," he said. "The second try was a big turning point in the game, if you go 14 points behind there is no way back.


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