Quins win shows why Lions may take Care

Harlequins 31 Newcastle 12
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The Independent Online

It was one of those days when Dean Richards was the man in charge of proceedings out on the field at the home of the Harlequins, the deputy headmaster and part-time referee not to be confused with the Dean Richards overseeing the home team from the side of the pitch. It was also one of those occasions when dear old Hughie Green, had he still been with us, might have been running the show. And I mean that most sincerely, folks. This was Opportunity Knocks for Harlequins and, in particular, for their No 9.

As it happened, Quins did not just knock on the door to the Guinness Premiership play-offs. They battered it down. Big time. By the 29th minute they had the bonus-point victory they needed to secure a home semi-final thoroughly in the bag.

Perhaps it was the memory of 12 months ago, when Deano's men were denied a spot in the top four by a last-minute score by Tom Varndell at Welford Road, of all places. Or maybe it was a release of the residual frustration from finishing on the losing side of their Heineken Cup quarter-final slug-fest against Leinster here a fortnight ago.

Whatever was responsible for fuelling their fire, the Quins were truly mighty as they made the play-offs for the first time, steamrollering a Newcastle side who were short of major players (there was no Jonny Wilkinson, no Carl Hayman and no Jamie Noon, after the England centre failed a pre-match fitness test on a back problem) and, it had to be said, were a little shy in the end-of-season motivation department too. On this form, London Irish will have a mighty job on their hands when it comes to the semi-final here on Saturday week if they are to stop the Twickenham team from crossing the Chertsey Road to contest the final at England's towering HQ.

In light of the misfortune suffered by Tomas O'Leary on Munster duty on Friday night, an added opportunity was knocking for Danny Care. Now that the Lions have been obliged to launch a Britain's Got Talent search for another No 9 to take to South Africa, Quins' England scrum-half made the most of his chance to show what he has, turning in a man-of-the-match performance. The Yorkshireman was in carpe diem mood from the off, almost breaking through from a tap-and-go in the third minute and paving the way for the opening score with another piece of lightning-quick opportunism.

It came with seven minutes on the clock and on the peep of Mr Richards' whistle, as he penalised Newcastle for not rolling away in the tackle. Care had tapped and gone before the errant Falcons had picked themselves up off the floor, the scrum-half darting within striking range up the right before the Quins pack arrived in numbers and Nick Easter drove over the line from a range of five yards.

Waisea Luveniyali, Quins' stand-in stand-off, converted, and nine minutes later a looping run by the Fijian helped to tee up Easter for another close-range drive for a try, this time to the left of the posts.

For Easter, of course, there was the added incentive of showing the Lions selectors what they are missing in having chosen to overlook the big bear of an England No 8. He and the Quins captain, the openside flanker Will Skinner, subsequently combined to make the hard yards on the right in the attack that yielded try No 3 in the 20th minute, the Samoan hooker Tani Fuga applying the finishing touch.

"Come on Quins, one more," the man on the public address system implored. Not that Harlequins needed any encouragement. The bonus-point try came after 29 minutes, Care feeding Mike Brown on the crash ball and the full-back dotting down between the posts. And that was that. To all intents and purposes, at any rate.

Poor Newcastle. It took them 32 minutes to turn back the Neapolitan-shirted tide and locate the Harlequins 22. When they got there, almost out of relief they scored, the lock Geoff Parling crossing the whitewash and Tom May converting. The Lions wing Ugo Monye then motored over on the left for Quins try No 5, before the formality of the second half.

Newcastle "won" it 5-0, with a Hall Charlton try three minutes from the final whistle. But it was Harlequins' day, an afternoon when they showed themselves in all their glory. "I thought we showed everything we're about," their Dean Richards reflected. Crikey, it very nearly brought a smile to his face.

Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall, U Monye (S Stegman, 40; D Barry, 48; T Guest, 58) ; W Luvenyali, D Care; C Jones, T Fuga (C Brooker, 68), M Ross (M Lambert, 59), J Percival, G Robson (J Evans, 59), C Robshaw, N Easter, W Skinner (capt).

Newcastle: A Tait; D Williams, T May, T Tu'ipulotu, J Rudd (S Jones, 57); R Miller, M Young (Charlton, 58); M Ward (J Williams, 61), M Thompson (A Long, 45), D Wilson, T Swinson, M Sorenson, R Winter (R Beattie, 65), A Balding (G Parling, 21), P Dowson (capt; P Browne, 45).

Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).

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