Rugby Union: Orrell edge a little closer

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Orrell. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

Harlequins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

VICTORY at Leicester a week ago suggested a brighter future for Harlequins. Perhaps, after all, they had discovered the resolve and consistency needed to be considered as legitimate challengers for the title.

Apart from Bath, there was nowhere more exacting to test those pretensions than at Edge Hall Road. In five previous cup and league visits, Quins have always been second best. Yesterday they made that six.

Yet Orrell's widest winning margin in the three league encounters has been no more than three points. For most of an absorbing contest yesterday, it looked as if the margin of victory would be considerably wider and although eventually it was only a point in Orrell's favour, justice was done, for it was only the concession of a soft try, scored by Paul Challinor, which denied Orrell the luxury of a more emphatic victory.

Nevertheless, Harlequins staged a dramatic last quarter revival, which was topped off by a spectacular try from Daren O'Leary to keep the outcome in doubt until the final whistle.

Orrell's superior forward work gave them the early edge. Dave Cleary was held inches short after Martin Hynes and Paul Manley had driven upfield and half a dozen defenders were drawn off-side for Gerry Ainscough to slot a simple penalty.

An isolated Quins break- out gave Kent Bray a penalty, but Orrell were back in front when Cleary was shunted over the line. Ainscough converted to open the gap to 13-3. Within seconds of the restart Quins were handed their gift. Jeff Alexander charged down Taberner's clearance, fed the supporting Challinor, who scored at the posts, with Bray converting.

Quins needed more than a helping of luck if they were to deny Orrell, who soon recovered their advantage. Taberner switched an attack to release James Naylor for Dewi Morris to score in the corner.

Orrell appeared determined to allow Harlequins a chance. Bray kicked a second penalty before O'Leary's converted try. Although there were still six minutes remaining, Orrell pulled themselves together to hold out victory. It is their title challenge which carries more conviction.

Orrell: Tries Cleary, Morris; Conversions Ainscough; Penalties Ainscough 3. Harlequins: Tries Challinor, O'Leary; Conversions Bray 2; Penalties Bray 2.

Orrell: S Taberner (capt); J Naylor, M Farr, P Johnson, P Hamer; G Ainscough, D Morris; M Hynes, G French, D Southern, C Brierley, C Cusani, N Ashurst, D Cleary, P Manley.

Harlequins: K Bray; C Madderson, J Alexander, G Thompson, D O'Leary; P Challinor, R Glenister; J Leonard, B Moore, A Mullins (capt), A Snow (M Hodley, 37 min), D Dix, M Russell, C Sheasby, R Langhorn (D Thresher, 23 min).

Referee: M Bayliss (Gloucester).