Staunton's miss lets Newcastle off the hook

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The Independent Online

Newcastle 2 Harlequins 21

Newcastle 2 Harlequins 21

The last time Newcastle were top of the Premiership was in 1998, when they beat Harlequins at The Stoop to claim the title. Their tenure at the head of the table is unlikely to bring a similar reward this season unless they can play with much greater authority than they showed at an expectant Kingston Park yesterday.

Matt Burke's first start and Jonny Wilkinson's first home Premiership appearance in nine months were marked by a litany of mistakes and a controversial ending. Wilkinson asked the referee and the senior touch judge if it would be the end of the game if he kicked the ball dead from a 22-metre drop-out. The answer was yes.

With the score at 22-21 in the seventh minute of stoppage time Wilkinson obliged, only for Harlequins to be awarded a scrum on the 22. It was perfect for a drop goal, but Jeremy Staunton's effort flew wide. It could, and perhaps should, have cost Newcastle the game, for they hardly deserved to win. It will be no consolation to Quins that they scored two brilliant tries to Newcastle's penalty try, or that they came away with a bonus point.

First Gavin Duffy's break set up George Harder to cross at the posts. With the conversion and a second penalty from Staunton to two penalties by Wilkinson, Quins were 13-9 up at the interval. Within a minute of the restart they had taken that to 18-9 as Staunton and Harder combined to send Duffy across.

With sin-binnings to Luke Sherriff and Simon Miall, Newcastle's pack got their penalty try while the latter was doing time. Wilkinson's conversion and penalty put Newcastle in front for the first time and he then tagged on another penalty. But Mike McCarthy went to the sin bin and while the flanker was absent Staunton kicked another penalty.

Although he missed with a long-range effort, it did not seem to matter when he set himself for the drop at goal. There ended the story of Quins' afternoon.

Newcastle: Try Penalty; Conversion Wilkinson; Penalties Wilkinson 5. Harlequins: Tries Harder, Duffy; Conversion Staunton Penalties Staunton 3.

Newcastle: M Burke; T May, J Noon, M Mayerhofler (D Walder, 18), M Stephenson; J Wilkinson (co-capt), H Charlton (J Grindal, 60); I Peel (co-capt), A Long (M Thompson, 63), M Ward (J Isaacson, 40), S Grimes, C Hamilton (L Gross, 40), M McCarthy, S Sititi, C Charvis.

Harlequins: G Duffy; S Keogh, G Harder, A Reay, U Monye; J Staunton, S So'olalo; C Jones (M Worsley, 63), A Tiatia, J Dawson, K Rudzki, S Miall (R Winters, 63), L Sherrif, T Diprose, A Vos (capt).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

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