Rugby Union: Quins are barely tested

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The Independent Online
Newcastle Gosforth. . . . 3

Harlequins. . . . . . . .22

HARLEQUINS will be pleased that for once this season they matched their class with conviction and eliminated all signs of the complacency which blighted their opening three league matches.

Much as this emphatic victory will be welcome, any concrete proof that Quins have turned the corner can be judged only when they have been subjected to a more testing examination. They must have been gratified by the lack of a serious challenge to their nervously sterile approach.

Once Harlequins had reached the notional security of a 19-0 advantage early in the second half, their captain, Andy Mullins, must have been praying that Darren O'Leary's smart try from the one exciting move in a dreary contest would not be the precursor of another wilful collapse.

Against Bristol, Harlequins established a 15-0 lead, before sliding ignominously to a 20-15 loss. But Newcastle, unlike Bristol, do not have the armoury or the expertise to expose Harlequins' shortcomings and Kent Bray's third penalty put any thoughts of a cave-in beyond question.

For Newcastle there must, even at this early stage, be grave doubts over their ability to survive. Another numbingly incompetent performance like this and they will go down with all hands.

Their scrummage was creaking from the start and cracked wide open before the end of what became a dispiriting afternoon. They were desperately insecure at the line-out, where John Fowler looked a shadow of the figure who had performed so well for Hawkes Bay against the Lions.

Until the final quarter, when Newcastle briefly raised themselves and David Johnson scored their only points with a short- range penalty, Alex Snow - Quins' other try-scorer - and David Dix dominated the line-out.

At the tail, and in the loose, Chris Sheasby made a massive contribution and O'Leary and Gavin Thompson showed some delightful touches in broken play .

Newcastle, one fears, are already out of touch.

Newcastle Gosforth: D Bennett; T Penn, R Wilkinson, I Chandler, M White (J Merritt 43 min); D Johnson, S Douglas; R Fuller, N Frankland (capt), P Zanvanfleit, G Archer, J Fowler, G Clark, R Arnold, J Nicholson.

Harlequins: K Bray; D O'Leary, G Thompson, W Carling, J Alexander; P Challinor, B Short; J Leonard, P Simmonds, A Mullins (capt), A Snow, D Dix, M Pepper, C Sheasby, J Cassell.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

Scores: Bray (pen, 7 min, 0-3); Bray (pen, 20 min, 0-6); Challinor (pen, 27 min, 0-9); Snow (try, 36 min, 0-14); O'Leary (try, 49 min, 0-19); Johnson (pen, 51 min, 3-19); Bray (pen, 84 min, 3-22).

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