Rugby Union: Quins inspired by Zinzan's example

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Harlequins 25

Newcastle 20

AT LAST, real signs that the huge investment is paying off. In terms of product promotion, this match was a resounding success. Some of the rugby played at The Stoop yesterday was breathtaking, brutal and utterly irresistible. This was the genuine article in spades.

Everybody knows everything about Newcastle; the mighty mean machine with a set of forwards that wouldn't look out of place in the Green Bay Packers. The last time they were here, it was the final day of last season and they duly completed a facile victory to clinch the Allied Dunbar Premiership, and last week they showed signs that they were back to their best by putting 43 points on Saracens.

What we didn't know about was Harlequins. A month ago they were in disarray with only West Hartlepool beneath them in the table. A defeat to Bedford was just about the last straw for Zinzan Brooke, the great Auckland warrior who has been paid a small fortune as player-coach. He read the riot act to his team, since when Quins have won six times.

Nothing, however, compared to yesterday's heroics. This was a famous victory, one of the most memorable in the club's history and it was greeted as such by a crowd of nearly 6,000.

Newcastle scored three tries to one but, whereas John Schuster kicked six penalties and a conversion, Jonny Wilkinson was successful with only two kicks out of six. Beneath the statistics was the most fiercely fought club match ever witnessed on this ground.

Quins set off like a rocket and were 16-0 up after 14 minutes. It included a stunning try from Dan Luger under the posts, brilliantly created by Jamie Williams at full-back. Quins looked dangerous every time they touched the ball but they saw less and less of it as the Newcastle pack, reinforced by the South African prop Marius Hurter, went into overdrive.

Tony Underwood scored Newcastle's first try in the 18th minute, injuring his right leg in the process, and a Wilkinson penalty made it 16-8 at half-time. It was one of the best halves of professional rugby I've ever seen and the stage was set for the Newcastle onslaught.

It arrived, their forwards embarking on a long march towards the Quins line in which the ball was recycled on eight occasions before Jim Naylor was released on the left wing. The pressure on the Quins was remorseless and when Gary Armstrong crashed over following another forward bombardment, Wilkinson's conversion in the 65th minute put Newcastle ahead for the first time in the match, 20-19.

Almost immediately Stuart Legg was penalised for a deliberate knock- on and Schuster kicked Quins back in front. He added another in the 72nd minute, rare interruptions to Newcastle's power play. During the siege, Hurter crossed the Quins line but was adjudged not to have grounded the ball and Rob Andrew suffered a similar fate. In the dying moments, Brooke was sent to the sin-bin but somehow Quins survived.

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary (J Keyter, 24), J Schuster, D Officer, D Luger; T Lacroix (capt), H Harries (C Wright, 61); J Leonard (D Barnes, 40), K Wood, A Yates, G Llewellyn (B Davison, 61), G Morgan, Z Brooke, C Sheasby (A Leach, 67), R Jenkins.

Newcastle: S Legg; V Tuigamala, M Shaw, R Andrew, T Underwood (J Naylor, 18); J Wilkinson, G Armstrong; G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter, G Archer (R Beattie, 66), D Weir, P Walton (S O'Neill, 67), D Ryan (capt), R Arnold.

Referee: C Rees (London).

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