Rugby Union: Quins make it six of the best

Harlequins 25 Newcastle 20
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The Independent Online
HARLEQUINS ARE on a winning streak, which means they are in unfamiliar territory, but their inspired run will be interrupted next week. They were due to play Richmond at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday, but the match has been postponed as Reading Football Club play on Saturday and cannot accommodate two matches in two days.

Quins offered to play Richmond at The Stoop, (switching their subsequent home game to Reading) and it has been rejected.

Quins have reinvented themselves in the last month, during which they have won six Premiership matches after losing their first three. Their victory over Newcastle was momentous, probably the hardest, and most absorbing match ever played at The Stoop. It had everything, most conspicuously a contrast in style.

Quins, with the exceptionally quick Jamie Williams in prime form at full- back, scored a brilliant try in establishing a 16-0 lead after 14 minutes.

The formidable Newcastle pack, reinforced by the arrival of the South African prop Marius Hurter, was like a juggernaut in overdrive in the second half but the Quins defence was as impressive as their offence.

Both sides suffered casualties, but Quins had to soak up enormous punishment. Jason Leonard damaged a hand, although an X-ray revealed no fracture, Thierry Lacroix lost several teeth, and David Barnes, Leonard's replacement, received stitches to a cut beneath an eye.

When Zinzan Brooke - one of his tackles on Hurter epitomised the ferocity of the contest - took over as player-coach he appointed the mountainous Queenslander Adrian Skeggs as forwards coach. Skeggs, a man whom you would not wish to meet in a corridor of light, let alone a dark alley, has transformed the Quins defence.

"In our first five games we were conceding an average of 32 points. That is now down to 13," Skeggs pointed out. "People thought we came here as mercenaries, but what I like about it is there is so much potential. There has been too much tradition, too many soft options. We have introduced individual coaching. Above all we have taught the players to respect the game. Reputations here mean nothing."

Newcastle, for whom Inga Tuigamala was phenomenal, scored three tries to one, but whereas John Schuster (at one point he was engaged in a running fight with Jonny Wilkinson) kicked seven out of eight, Wilkinson missed four out of six.

Harlequins: Try Luger; Conversion Schuster; Penalties Schuster 6. Newcastle: Tries Underwood, Naylor, Armstrong; Conversion Wilkinson; Penalty Wilkinson.

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 (W Davison, 61), G Morgan, Z Brooke, C Sheasby (A Leach, 67), R Jenkins.

Newcastle: S Legg; V Tuigamala, M Shaw, R Andrew, A 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'Neil, 67), D Ryan (capt), R Arnold.

Referee: C Rees (London).