Harlequins' summer transfer activity has placed a lot of emphasis on youth and nowhere is that more evident than in the second row where Charlie Matthews is now a senior figure, writes Jack Skelton.
The former England U20 star has only just turned 23 but after an injury-hit start to last season he firmly established himself alongside George Robson in the Quins boiler room.
That meant that Heineken Cup winner and former England international Nick Kennedy could only settle for a place on the bench as the season reached the business end last time around.
And with Kennedy now retired, director of rugby Conor O’Shea has not opted to recruit but instead placed his faith in Matthews and fellow youngsters Sam Twomey and George Merrick.
Quins’ superb end to the season saw them win their last five Aviva Premiership games in a row to sneak into the play-offs at the expense of Bath Rugby.
And while Saracens proved too strong in the semi-finals, Matthews is confident that O’Shea’s young colts are much wiser for the experiences of last season.
“It was nice to have the coaching team show the trust in me to play in the big games at the end of the year,” he said.
“It was a tough year – I missed the first two months with injury and I had the small matter of Nick Kennedy ahead of me.
“We’ve got some great youngsters in myself, George and Sam all at a similar age coming through.
“It’s great that Conor has put his trust in us and me to fill Nick Kennedy’s big boots.
“It was frustrating at first but eventually I got some love and it was an awesome finish to the season barring the final result.
“We were just exhausted and ready for a rest. The aim for this year is simply to get ourselves in a position where we’re not chasing and we’re sitting in a more comfortable place where we can rest players and get things ready for the play-offs.
“Last year we had to think about yet another play-off intensity type match after another and it was mentally tiring.”
Matthews and co, who have made the play-offs for the last three years in a row, kick off their campaign this time around against London Irish in Twickenham’s London Double Header.
And Matthews is adamant that he and his teammates must hit the ground running this time around in a bid to blow off the early-season cobwebs.
“Twickenham is a bit of a home from home for us but London Irish aren’t too far away either so they’ll have that edge as well. We love it there and everyone’s always excited for the first game but there is an extra excitement to play at Twickenham,” he added.
“It’s always a great day and hopefully it won’t be as tight as it has been the last couple of times. I’m looking forward to playing against Tom Guest as well – I think a few of the boys are.
“We pack a second set of lungs in our kit bag for half-time because everyone is always blowing. In all seriousness it’s just another game really when it comes down to it but there is that excitement about playing at Twickenham.”
*Charlie Matthews was speaking on behalf of Heathrow Express, proud sponsors of the Aviva Premiership London Double Header . Heathrow Express is the fastest way to travel between central London and Heathrow Airport. For more information visit www.heathrowexpress.com or join the conversation on Twitter @hexrugby