Harlequins 15 Newcastle 9: Barry goes late on Tait as Quins grind it out

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The Independent Online

If he had committed the act on a high street instead of a rugby pitch he would probably have been charged with GBH. As tackles go it was horrendous. The perpetrator was Harlequins' South African centre, De Wet Barry, the victim was the England three-quarter Mathew Tait and the former must have been hugely relieved to see the latter finally stagger to his feet.

Harlequins were 15-6 in front and looking quite comfortable when Tait kicked ahead from midfield in the 60th minute. Before he had a chance to follow it up he was poleaxed by Barry. Tait took the full force of a shoulder in his face. The tackle was high, highly dangerous and so late as to be deceased.

Barry was shown a red card – anything less would have been scandalous – and was forced to walk past the stricken Tait, who barely moved a muscle forthe next six minutes. He was surrounded by medics, a stretcher appeared and, judging by Jonny Wilkinson's head shaking, it looked grim indeed.

Thank goodness then, that Tait was able to get to his feet and walk groggily off, albeit with two helpers. If anything should have lifted Newcastle out of their depression this was it. Instead Quins, a man short, made light of their handicap to condemn the visitors to a fifth consecutive Premiership defeat.

When the World Cup was on Quins prospered. When the season went in to another cup mode, concerning the Heineken and the EDF Energy versions, they disappeared without trace. When the Guinness Premiership moved into its final quarter, the London club began to enjoy a patch of the deepest purple – not to mention French grey, magenta, chocolate brown, light green and so on.

Their progress has been so dramatic they are very much in the running for a play-off place. They would only have to travel across the road for the final. Yesterday's victory means they have accumulated 27 points from seven matches and nobody has matched that form.

In difficult conditions – strong wind and rain – this was not pretty but in front of a sell-out crowd Quins got home by four penalties and a drop goal to three penalties.

Newcastle are at the opposite end of the table and must be thanking their lucky stars that Worcester and Leeds are beneath them. Their confidence is lower than that of their sponsors, Northern Rock. If theseare hard times for Wilkinsonand Co then next season, with Northampton back in the mix, promises to be even harder.

Steve Bates, their acting head coach – his predecessor parted company with the club last month – said he was not a reliable witness on the Tait débâcle. "The tackle was so late all I heard was a sharp intake of breath from the crowd," he said. However, he went on to criticise the referee, Martin Fox, for "mystifying and inconsistent" decisions". "The referee had a huge influence on the result," Bates said.

Dean Richards, Quins' director of rugby, said: "I didn't see the incident involving Tait, I was following the ball. I will have a look at it on the video. De Wet Barry tackles hard but he's not a dirty player. Afterwards he went up to Mathew and apologised and he also apologised to me. It was an unfortunate business."

After Tait's exit Wilkinson kicked the penalty to make it 15-9. That was about the last time Newcastle, even with an extra man, visited the Quins half.

Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, U Monye (DW Barry, 39), J Turner-Hall, S Keogh; A Jarvis (C Malone, 61), D Care; C Jones, T Fuga (G Botha, 54), M Ross, J Percival (J Evans, 71), G Robson, N Easter, T Guest (C Hala'Ufia, 51), W Skinner (capt).

Newcastle: T May; O Phillips, M Tait (T Visser, 60), T Flood, J Rudd; J Wilkinson, H Charlton (J Grindal, 51); M Ward (J Golding, 40), R Vickers (M Thompson, 48), C Hayman, A Perry (G Parling, 61), M Sorenson, A Buist, P Dowson (capt), B Woods (B Wilson, 56).

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).

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