Rugby Union: Luger's vision fixed on Europe

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The Independent Online
Harlequins 29

Bedford 16

HARLEQUINS AND Bedford may have started this game with differing ambitions but for much of the match it was difficult to tell who was fighting for Allied Dunbar Premiership survival and who was chasing a coveted place in the European Cup next season. Two late tries distorted the score disproportionately in Quins' favour because they were not worth a 13-point victory, but in the professional era it is the result that matters and the London side's European hopes are still alive.

For Bedford it is one step closer to relegation or the play-offs and the fact that they deserved the four-point lead that Rory Underwood's converted try gave them in the 45th minute is scant consolation.

Three times Bedford tried to batter their way over the Quins line after a short line-out only five metres out, but the break came when Darragh O'Mahony side-stepped John Schuster. A despairing ankle-tap by the New Zealander felled O'Mahony but Underwood was left free to score.

Schuster increased his record points tally with 14 more to add to his previous 296, but he did not enjoy one of his most productive days, and that was indicative of Quins' performance. Bereft of ideas in a very disjointed first half, Harlequins threatened only through the aggressive and direct running of their England wing, Dan Luger. Dan Harris is a chunky centre and Luger bounced him off during one break, illustrating the difficulty of tackling him once he is up and running, and Jason Forster was lucky not to be sin-binned after a high tackle that left Luger grounded.

The wing's seemingly insatiable appetite for hard work was rewarded with a try in the 65th minute after a spell of sustained pressure deep in the Bedford 22, the score being created by the introduction of Keith Wood and Zinzan Brooke. They gave a measure of control to the set-piece, and five scrums and two penalties preceded the ball being spun wide where Luger created an overlap with a well-timed loop.

The arrivals of Brooke and Wood coincided with a more purposeful and cohesive Quins and Bedford were, as so often before this season, left chasing a game that for so long had looked like a crucial victory. Missing the influential Junior Paramore, Bedford can only dream of bringing on heavyweights like the substitutes the Quins were able to utilise.

An interception of a Dan Harris pass by Daren O'Leary sealed the game for Quins in the 79th minute and Jamie Williams added another on the final whistle that left Quins' destiny in their own hands. Of their six remaining games, four are against teams also hoping for European action next year, but Saracens, Bath, Newcastle and Wasps will punish the lethargy of yesterday.

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, W Carling (P Mensah, 59), J Schuster, D Luger; T Lacroix (capt), H Harries (C Wright, 46); D Barnes, C Ridgway (K Wood, 52), G Halpin (A Yates, 70), G Llewellyn, G Morgan, B Davison (Z Brooke, 59), R Jenkins, A Leach.

Bedford: S Stewart; R Underwood (B Whetstone, 79), A Murdoch (capt), D Harris, D O'Mahony; T Yapp, C Harrison; A Olver, J Richards, C Boyd, S Murray, A Duke, P Elphick, J Forster, R Winters.

Referee: C Reeks.