Rugby Union: Harris has the drop on tough Newcastle

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The Independent Online
Coventry 19 Newcastle 18

Coventry have made big strides since Derek Eves, almost a year to the day, left Bristol to take over as director of rugby at Coundon Road. Yet even for Eves, defeat of big-spending Newcastle must have appeared a step too far on the tortuous road to restoring his new club to a place among England's elite.

On a gloriously uncertain afternoon, in front of a near 8,000-strong crowd (the largest for a club game at Coventry since the early 1960s), when unrestrained passion and over-robust intervention often got the better of tactical nous, Coventry displayed the surer footwork. By virtue of their more insistent invention, it was Eves and his team who deserved to triumph.

It was left to Rob Andrew and Jez Harris, two of the best kickers in the English game, to decide the outcome of a match of sustained intensity. Harris came out on top, moments after Andrew's dropped goal appeared as if it had sealed Coventry's destiny; just as the England outside-half did when consigning Australia to defeat in last year's World Cup quarter- final tie in Cape Town.

It heightened the drama that only a single point separated the sides after 80 minutes of cut-and-thrust as Coventry refused to submit to Newcastle's greater physical presence and unmitigating intimidation. Although Andrew almost won Newcastle the game, it was Coventry who scored the only tries.

An ecstatic Eves said afterwards: "I think now that people are going to believe in Coventry. We're a very close-knit side and work for one another, and seek perfection. Today you saw it."

The lead changed hands six times. It began with Coventry and Harris's opening penalty goal. Andrew brought the scores level with the first of his five penalties, although Coventry led 11-9 at the break thanks to a smart try by the full-back Wayne Kilford. But by half-time Newcastle had paid for their over-aggressive approach with the dismissal of John Bentley for repeatedly punching Andy Smallwood.

Two more Andrew penalties took Newcastle out to a 15-11 lead before a try by Smallwood restored Coventry's advantage. Then Andrew struck with what seemed to be the decisive score with three minutes remaining.

Raising themselves for one last drive downfield, the Coventry forwards set up the position for Harris to strike for glory with a dropped goal. There was never a chance he would miss.

Coventry: Tries Kilford, Smallwood. Penalties Harris 2. Dropped goal Harris. Newcastle: Penalties Andrew 5; Dropped goal Andrew.

Coventry: W Kilford; A McAdam, M Gallagher, R Robinson, A Smallwood; J Harris, T Dawson; R Hardwick (capt), D Addleton, M Crane, D Grewcock, A Blackmore (L Crofts, 56), J Horrobin, D Eves, I Patten.

Newcastle: T Stimpson; J Bentley, M Tetlow, A Blyth, T Underwood; R Andrew, G Armstrong; N Popplewell, R Nesdale, G Graham, G Archer, D Weir, P Walton, S O'Neill, D Ryan (capt).

Referee: N Cousins (London).