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Club Rugby

Clegg's clog keeps Worcester worrying

Harlequins 14 Worcester 11

Worcester have been unable to shake off that unfortunate knack of failing to win close games, and it could prove to be their undoing come the end of the season.

The recent revival of Leeds, who for much of the season appeared shoo-ins for an immediate return to National League One, has brought the relegation battle sharply into focus. Harlequins would have been dragged into it had they lost yesterday but the boot of Rory Clegg and a heroic defensive effort late on means they can breathe a little easier with six matches remaining.

The flame-haired fly-half Clegg only started because Nick Evans, Quins' regular No 10, failed a fitness test on Friday evening owing to shoulder and knee problems. Clegg had nailed late kicks to salvage a draw against London Irish and a victory at Worcester already this season and he showed similar gumption in the 70th minute here, landing a match-winning penalty from halfway.

"I don't feel that much pressure whether it's the last kick or the first kick – it's a good trait to have," said the 20-year-old former Newcastle Falcons player.

Worcester's losing bonus point means they lie only two points above Sale and bottom-placed Leeds, who both play today, but this was another tight one they could have nicked. "Being on the wrong side of the penalty count cost us," Mike Ruddock, Worcester's director of rugby, said with a shake of the head.

An explosive start – a try by either side in the opening 11 minutes – hinted at brighter things to come but those hopes were dashed by a fierce breeze, a glut of handling errors and both teams going into their shell. The fear of relegation does that to you.

The Quins full-back Mike Brown forced his way over the line from close range in the eighth minute after a series of phases initiated by a break from the scrum-half Karl Dickson, awarded the man-of-the-match award for a lively display. But the England Saxons wing Miles Benjamin ran on to a miss-pass by Sam Tuitupou to ground in the left corner three minutes later and bring the Warriors back into it.

Both conversions were missed but the fly-halves, Clegg and Matthew Jones, traded two penalties early in the second half to make it 11-11.

Clegg was handed the chance to claim the win for Quins when Tom Wood was pinged for a high tackle on Chris Robshaw and he did not disappoint.

Worcester laid siege on the Quins' line in the final 10 minutes – they even turned down a penalty kick at goal in favour of an attacking scrum – but the London side held firm.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a degree of tension in me as the game stayed tight," admitted the Quins head coach, John Kingston.

Harlequins M Brown; D Strettle, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, T Williams; R Clegg, K Dickson; C Jones, M Cairns (T Fuga, 51), J Andress, J Percival, G Robson, C Robshaw, T Guest, W Skinner (capt).

Worcester C Latham; C Pennell, D Rasmussen (A Grove, 66), S Tuitupou, M Benjamin; M Jones, J Arr; M Mullan (A Lutui, 47), C Fortey (A Black, 47), T Taumoepeau, G Rawlinson (G Kitchener, 57), C Gillies, T Wood (C Cracknell, 70), K Horstmann, P Sanderson (capt).

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).