Lacroix shows a clean pair of hands

Harlequins 48 West Hartlepool 10
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The Independent Online
They did not exactly turn up in their droves to watch Harlequins; but a few did make the journey from Northampton. No one, it appeared, had bothered to tell them that two weeks ago the match originally scheduled between Saints and the Quins had been rearranged for the end of April. For those who may have remained among the crowd of 4,620 they saw a ritual slaughter.

It was all useful fodder for Harlequins, who bolstered their points difference, although not by enough to overtake third-placed Bath, who now have a game in hand. Their forwards dominated in just about every phase, although West Hartlepool rucked well enough at times to force Quins on to the back foot.

There may have been a few doubts as to who was due to play whom at The Stoop, but there could not have been any uncertainty as to the outcome. Thierry Lacroix had kicked a penalty and converted Jason Keyter's and Daren O'Leary's early tries by the seventh minute.

At that stage a century looked on the cards, except that for the next 20 minutes West Hartlepool not only kept the marauding cosmopolitans at bay, but even stole upfield and threatened their opponents' line briefly. But there was too much on offer up front and out in the Quins midfield for them to be denied for too long.

The Harlequins centre Keyter was always in the thick of the action. His powerful bursts scattered the cover and his well timed passes kept moves alive. It was a stunning break by Keyter which led to Mike Corcoran's second try. The ball was recycled and the left-wing, opting for a telling angle, knifed around what was left of the defence. Lacroix, naturally, added the extra points.

The French fly-half is known for his superlative kicking, but he also has a great pair of hands, as his recovery job on Gareth Llewellyn's urgent pass bore witness. Lacroix picked it up off his ankles like a slip fielder before lobbing to the lurking Corcoran who thundered over.

It took Harlequins more than quarter of an hour of the second half to reopen the scoring, scrum-half Nick Walshe burrowing through a mess of bodies from close range. Three minutes later Walshe crossed from a more impressive distance after Lacroix's break. Walshe completed his hat- trick just before the end.

While the Quins spree was greeted noisily enough, the biggest cheer was saved for Cambridge Blue Russell Earnshaw when the flanker pulled off an interception and sprinted 80 yards to touch down. Ten minutes later Stephen John broke clear down the right to score.

Harlequins: P Challinor (H Harries, 78); D O'Leary, J Keyter, W Carling, M Corcoran (J Williams, 54); T Lacroix, N Walshe; J Leonard (capt, A Mullins, 40), T Billups, L Benezech, G O Llewellyn, L Gross, R Jenkins, L Cabannes, M Watson.

West Hartlepool: M Silva; G Truelove, L Botham (C Armitage, 75), J Connolly, S John; C John (J Stabler, 75), M Roderick (P Harvey, 63); D Barnes, A Peacock, W De Jonge (P Whitelock, 56), C Murphy, K Moseley (capt), M Emmerson, R Earnshaw, I Morgan.

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester).

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