Rugby Union: Pears blossoms

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The Independent Online
Harlequins . . . . . . .12

Newcastle Gosforth. . . .6

WHEN David Pears attended last month's Rugby Writers' Club dinner, some of the wags stood back in case they bumped into him. The joke was not lost on Pears, whose long history of injuries might have persuaded lesser souls to throw in the towel. Yesterday, though, he finally made it back for Harlequins.

He also went the distance, which was more than could be said for one of his team-mates, the lock Alex Snow, who having received two warnings was sent off for punching five minutes into the second half. That left Quins one short of the necessary and struggling Newcastle Gosforth in with a chance of recording their first league win of the season.

Quins, meanwhile, welcomed back another old friend when Peter Winterbottom came on as a replacement for the injured Chris Sheasby. This was beginning to look a bit like all our yesterdays, although the England flanker, who had retired from first-class rugby at the end of last season, confirmed that he has no intention of reversing the decision.

'It's a one-off situation,' Winterbottom said. He has kept in trim by playing for the Harlequins Gentlemen and training for the London Marathon. 'Hopefully I won't have to go on,' Winterbottom had said. When Sheasby was clattered, he had no choice.

Pears was just delighted to be playing again. It was his first league match for Quins since fracturing his jaw against Bath in September 1992. There was plenty more besides. Tipped as the England full-back successor to Jon Webb, he once had a suspected broken neck, suffered two slipped discs in training and has had a pelvic operation.

Last summer, he broke his hand against Canada and he has been sitting out this season with a knee-ligament injury. All of which is rather more interesting than some of yesterday's turgid fare. This was a niggling little match all through, settled by the boot of Paul Challinor.

Snow and Newcastle's New Zealand No 8, Richard Arnold, set the tone with some off-the-ball bickering and when the Quin received his marching orders it came as no surprise. Lucky Quins, however, were facing the weakest team in the First Division.

Challinor never missed a kick at goal, giving Quins their seventh win in 13 outings by matching David Johnson's two penalties before the break and adding two more in the second half. There was no hint of running rugby, but at least Pears emerged unscathed.

Harlequins: Penalties Challinor 4. Newcastle Gosforth: Penalties Johnson 2.

Harlequins: D Pears; D O'Leary, W Carling, G Thompson, J Alexander; P Challinor, C Luxton; S Brown, B Moore, A Mullins (capt), A Snow, S Dear, T Coker, C Sheasby (P Winterbottom, 40 min), B Richardson.

Newcastle Gosforth: D Bennett (D Cassado, 36-39 min); T Penn, I Chandler, M Tetlow, M White; D Johnson (capt), S Douglas; P Vanzandvliet, N Frankland, M Fraser, J Fowler (R Metcalf, 73 min), F Mitchell, R Hoole, R Arnold, M Corry.

Referee: D Matthews (St Helens).