Burke a force too far for Bridgend

Bridgend 24 Harlequins 30
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The Independent Online

An accomplished if not totally convincing performance, together with a faultless kicking display from their fly-half and "man of the match" Paul Burke, was more than adequate for Harlequins to open their Heineken Cup account with a crucial win at Bridgend.

The mannequin emblazoned on their multi-coloured jersey symbolises the Harlequins brand and image. Richard Webster, the Bridgend coach, referred to the visitors in a pre-match interview as that "posh lot'' from London and said that his side would need to get amongst them, whatever that meant. Perhaps Webster was referring to the amateur days of yesteryear as the current Harlequins were more punishing than posh and, on the evidence of this performance against a combative Bridgend, they should enjoy a productive season once some rough edges are smoothed over.

Bridgend, making their debut in the Heineken Cup, have endured an inconsistent season to date with their vast potential behind unable to profit or deliver due to a lack of presence and fortitude among their forwards.

Any Anglo-Welsh encounter stirs the blood and in the modern professional game manages also to stir the emotions of other nationalities. The Heineken Cup raises the expectations of all concerned and the opening half-hour of this encounter displayed the intensity and tempo normally associated with domestic club fixtures. Power-packed forwards hurtled into contact, enducing bone-shaking tackles as defence remained intact.

Bridgend broke the ice after 10 minutes when Cerith Rees kicked a 30-metre penalty for offside at a ruck. Rees, a traditional Welsh fly-half, surprisingly dropped a comfortable pass on his own 22 shortly afterwards for the ever-alert Keith Wood to hack on with Burke supporting and diving over to claim a try which he converted. Burke then started to impose himself with a series of lengthy, raking touch-finders, one of which led to his first penalty of the evening.

Rees, not to be outdone, was also doing likewise and he cut through the visiting defence with a sparkling thrust which led to his third penalty to keep Bridgend in touch. But Bridgend were too predictable in midfield and too reliant on the short, sharp pass down the middle whereas Quins, via Burke, varied the focal point of attack, mixing the direct route with the search for open spaces. On the half-hour, Quins wheeled a midfield scrum to their advantage, nullifying the back-row defence and enabling the scrum-half Scott Bemand to spring and jink clear before sending the supporting flanker Tu Tamarua over at the posts. Burke converted and landed a penalty a few minutes later.

The Bridgend skipper and former Quin Huw Harries raised the stakes in the opening minutes of the second half with an expertly placed and awkwardly bouncing box kick which escaped the clutches of the home defence and ended in the grateful arms of his full-back Adrian Durston who crossed for their first try.

Tamarua fed ravenously off the charging runs of Garrick Morgan and Wood, and his half-break gave Burke his third penalty. The result was sealed on the hour when a driving maul from a line-out disrupted the home defence and the ball was spun quickly left to the waiting Dan Luger, who finished in style for Burke to maintain his 100 per cent kicking record.

Bridgend's best moment was a case of too little too late as the Lions winger Dafydd James, again under-used on the left wing, cut through from the blind side with a scorching run that left the Quins grasping shadows. Rees converted to give some respectability to the scoreline.

Bridgend 24 Harlequins 30

Tries: Durston, James Tries: Luger, Burke, Tamarua

Con: Rees Cons: Burke 3

Pens: Rees 4 Pens: Burke 3

Half-time: 9-20 Attendance: 4,500

Bridgend: A Durston; G Jones, G Thomas, J Funnell (J Devereux, 67), D James; C Rees, H Harries (capt; J Hewlett, 67); C Loader, G Williams, C Noon, P Clapham (K Stewart, 60), C Stephens, M Molitika (N Budgett, 60), J Ringer, R Bryan.

Harlequins: M Mapletoft; M Moore, N Greenstock, C Bell, D Luger; P Burke, S Bemand; B Starr (J Leonard, 55), K Wood, A Olver, G Morgan (Captain), S White-Cooper, R Winters, T Tamarua (P Sanderson, 75), T Diprose.

Referee: J Dume (France).