Rugby Union: Harlequins win but lose their way in the rain

Harlequins 25 West Hartlepool 10
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IT HAS been quite a week for Harlequins. After a rather spluttery start to the season, no one could be too unhappy with three wins in seven days, especially when they include the scalps of Saracens and Gloucester.

But the manner of their third, over a side that has yet to chalk up any wins in the Premiership raised as many doubts as it did cheers. The next outing, against Wasps, could be as full of the nervousness that has kept nerves at The Stoop jangling as the confidence that a hat-trick of wins should bring.

The conditions were hardly ideal for strutting, though the forecast was more dire than the actual amount of rain and wind that appeared. The downpour only became torrential for a time midway through the second half, but the persistent rain led to persistent errors and Quins seemed unsure about whether to risk a run or just play it tight.

In theory, they had the pack to grind it out, though the front row of Jason Leonard, Keith Wood and Gary Halpin never looked totally dominant. And Zinzan Brooke's back-row return lasted only 40 minutes while the hard-working Chris Sheasby was sometimes wayward.

So West Hartlepool lasted the first quarter reasonably unscathed, Steve Vile matching John Schuster's opening penalty and Johnny Ngauamo's try being disallowed for a forward pass.

Then came three tries for Quins in the second quarter, from Huw Harries, Ngauamo and Dan Luger, three more kicks by Schuster making a comfortable half-time lead.

Too comfortable. Rather strangely, Quins' director of rugby, John Gallagher, said afterwards that beating one of the lower ranked sides was a hurdle to overcome.

Quins faced the elements in the second half and they scored no points, lost their way tactically and generally gave the impression of playing down to a standard, not up to one.

West have deeper problems of their own. Their coach, Mike Brewer, had to draft himself in at No 8 and the depth of resources is unhappily shallow.

Harlequins: Tries Harries, Ngauamo, Luger; Conversions Schuster 2; Penalties Schuster 2. West Hartlepool: Try Connolly; Conversion Vile; Penalty Vile.

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, J Ngauamo, J Schuster, D Luger; T Lacroix (capt), H Harries (C Wright, 75); J Leonard, K Wood (T Murphy, 78), G Halpin (R Nebbett, 71), T Collier (W Davison, 64), G Llewellyn, Z Brooke (A Leach, h-t), R Jenkins, C Sheasby.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell; T Lough, P Tanginoa, J Connolly, S John; S Vile, T Nu'ualiti'ia (capt); S Sparks, B Cullinane, P Beal, P Farner, W Fuller, J Ponton, M Bentley (S Cassidy, 79), M Brewer.

Referee: S Savage (Warwickshire).