Jones strikes as Quins go West

West Hartlepool 10 Harlequins 8
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The Independent Online
RELEGATION, the dire fate that has threatened Harlequins since the turn of the year, looms ever closer. They came to West Hartlepool yesterday with the chance to save their season, but a try in the last minute, when their work appeared done, could haunt them all the way to the drop.

West Hartlepool appear now to be out of trouble, but with Northampton winning at Bristol yesterday, Quins are a single point from the bottom spot. The stage is now set for a titanic relegation battle at The Stoop in three weeks' time when Northampton come visiting. Quins will have to win there, for their run-in to the season's finish is far harder than the Saints.

How Quins will rue that last- minute disaster. They led this game for 75 minutes and appeared to have successfully defended a three-point lead throughout the second half, so tight did they keep the ball and so successfully did they frustrate their opponents. Certainly this was no spectacle: this was hard grind, a forwards-only policy that so nearly fulfilled its intentions.

Harlequins had gained the upper hand from the start, kept West pinned inside their 22 for a full 15 minutes, but no great advantage came their way. West did well to limit the deficit to three points - a Paul Challinor penalty after four minutes - and then started to move upfield with Troy Jaques, their Australian No 8, leading the charge. Having survived the initial onslaught, in the 29th minute, West allowed Peter Mensah to run through them for the opening try.

From then until half-time, there was little to split the sides. Quins looked to be taking an 8-0 lead into the second half, but two minutes into injury time came the West try which threw the game wide open.

Competitors like Brian Moore are hard to find, yet West's score came from the steal of a scrum against the head, Tim Herbert taking the ball off Moore's toes. Jaques broke from behind the scrum, the ball went inside to his scrum-half, Jonathan Wrigley, and then out to Alan Brown, the blindside flanker, who charged the final 15 yards, brushing off a tackle in the process and stretching out an arm to score in the corner.

A thrilling finale? It seemed not. This extremely tight game went only tighter with the Quins front row dulling the entertainment but delivering a display of supreme control. The crowd were forced merely to watch the clock - the spectacle on the field was little competition - and witness the seconds ticking away.

A minute to go, though, and Kevin Whitaker kicked into the Harlequins 22: West's final chance, Quins' demise duly followed. West won possession, spun the ball, Stimpson kicked into open space and Steve Jones won the race to touch down.

Jones had hardly been in the game all day, yet his fleeting but sensational contribution is not one Quins will easily forget.

West Hartlepool: T Stimpson; O Evans, A Elwyne, P Hodder (capt), S Jones; K Whitaker, J Wrigley; P Lancaster, T Herbert, P Beal, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Mitchell, A Brown, T Jaques.

Harlequins: W Greenwood; C Henderson, P Mensah, G Thompson, S Bromley; P Challinor, R Kitchin; J Leonard, B Moore (capt), A Mullins, A Snow, P Thresher, M Pepper, R Jenkins, C Sheasby.

Referee: T Russall (RFU).