Andrew's vision loses focus

Newcastle 22 Harlequins 44
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The Independent Online
FOR half an hour at Kingston Park, Rob Andrew could see his vision of Newcastle among England's elite clubs in sharp focus. Leading 16-10 against a Carling-less Quins, his League Two side were on top and scenting an upset on the Twickenham trail.

Then it all became a bit blurred. Andrew lost a contact lens in the Tyneside mud and Newcastle lost their way.

Daren O'Leary's injury-time break gave Harlequins their second try and reduced the deficit at half-time to a single point. Thereafter, Andrew saw the gulf in class widen before him. O'Leary ran in four more tries and Peter Mensah added another to leave the League One visitors with double Newcastle's point tally by the final whistle.

It was a sobering exercise for Andrew and for the Tyneside club intent on emulating their football partners. But giving Quins half a match was one crumb of comfort; the impending addition of Gary Armstrong, Doddie Weir and Tony Underwood to his side were others for England's former stand- off.

Andrew didn't get his wish for the levelling influence of a quagmire surface and a wicked northeast wind. His hopes of taking on Harlequins up front didn't look too bright either when, in the third minute, Gareth Allison broke from the halfway line and the injured Carling's replacement, Will Greenwood, burst through under the posts.

Paul Challinor's conversion and penalty gave Harlequins a 10-0 lead after seven minutes and the omens still didn't look good for Newcastle when Andrew missed his first kick at the posts. But then the centre Richard Cramb, Scotland's No 10 before Craig Chalmers, chipped into the left corner and Iain McLellan touched down. Andrew's conversion hit the upright but went over, as did his second penalty attempt and the deficit was down to four points by the 12th minute.

Andrew snatched his chance to probe the exposed nerves which were evident in the Quins' camp. His now familiar constipated crab kicking style delivered penalties from the halfway line and then 25 metres to put his underdogs 16-10 ahead.

They might have built a more substantial cushion but Nick Popplewell, the scrum-half George Robson and the No 8 Richard Arnold were stopped short of the line as Newcastle had Quins on the back foot.

The Tyneside club started paying the price for those near misses when O'Leary raced 45 yards to score in first-half injury time. Andrew found himself under pressure from the start in the second half - injured by a stray knee and then temporarily absent with leave to collect a third contact lens. He mustered only six points, from two penalties, to counter the sweeping tide of Harlequins.

As he declared before kick-off, England's erstwhile director of midfield operations clearly has too much on his mind at Newcastle to contemplate a return to No 10 in the national side. Andrew, who was watched by Mike Slemen, one of Jack Rowell's England coaching assistants, said afterwards that calls for his international return were "very flattering, but my decision to retire hasn't changed. I've a lot of work to do here and that's what I'm focusing on."

As Harlequins prepare to face Leicester in the quarter final, the next challenge on Andrew's horizon is the visit of New South Wales on Tuesday night. David Campese will be in their line-up and Andrew said that he would rival Harlequins in the race to sign the veteran winger.

Newcastle: P Belgian; N Wilson, J Fletcher, R Cramb, I McLellan; R Andrew, G Robson; N Popplewell, N Frankland, P Van Zandvliet, F Mitchell, R Metcalfe, P Walton, S Cassidy, R Arnold.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Greenwood, P Mensah, S Bromley; P Challinor, R Kitchen; J Leonard, S Mitchell, A Mullins, M Russell, M Watson, G Allison, C Sheasby, R Jenkins.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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