The plot thickens as Quins fall again

Harlequins 9 - Worcester 15
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The Independent Online

The hoardings that have replaced the old building portray signs of optimism - "new west stand, coming soon, a new era." Harlequins are investing £8m in the future and on the pitch the immediate future looks bleak.

The hoardings that have replaced the old building portray signs of optimism - "new west stand, coming soon, a new era." Harlequins are investing £8m in the future and on the pitch the immediate future looks bleak.

Yesterday Quins, who have spent almost the entire season in the nether regions of the Premiership, were manhandled from one end of The Stoop to the other in what is described as a relegation dogfight.

Promotion and relegation is supposed to be sacrosanct but in the Premiership some things, it seems, are negotiable. In the annual controversy the latest rumour is that a group of top clubs, including Quins, are prepared to offer every outfit in National League One half a million pounds to swallow their pride and stay put. In boxing they might call it taking a dive.

The majority of clubs in National League One - only a handful would satisfy the strict criteria for access to the Premiership - might be tempted by such an offer, although Quins and Worcester said yesterday they knew nothing about it.

"I have no idea," Mark Evans, the Quins chief executive, said. "I have no time for conspiracy theories. I've got a job to do."

Andy Keast, the Worcester coach, said: "The powers that be will decide what happens."

Worcester completed an invaluable double over Quins in a match that was so old fashioned it would have been recognised by William Webb Ellis, although few players were prepared here to pick up the ball and run with it.

Worcester, promoted last year, won by five penalties, kicked by James Brown, to three kicked by Jeremy Staunton. Worcester very quickly discovered that Quins could not match the power of their pack and adjusted their game plan accordingly.

"We got scrummed out of the game," Evans said. "They gave us all sorts of problems."

When Quins visited Sixways earlier in the season they suffered an embarrassing defeat. "I thought Worcester had the second best scrum in the league after Leicester," Evans said. "I might have to revise my opinion. It's a tough game when your scrum ain't working."

Sure enough, the Worcester pack stuck the ball under their jumper, played to their strength and drove Quins to distraction.

In a match watched by the Australian coach Eddie Jones (goodness only knows what he made of it), the spectacle was of two scavengers fighting for scraps in the wake of a trawler. Quins played with the strong wind at their backs in the first half but were never in a position to exploit it.

Brown kicked Worcester into the lead in the sixth minute and it was the only time in the half they got a sniff of the Quins 22. Staunton levelled six minutes later and the stand-off almost created, with a lovely offload, a try for Gavin Duffy but the centre was grounded just short.

Staunton made it 6-3 and on the stroke of half-time Quins should have gone further ahead, but the hooker Tani Fuga knocked on with a big overlap on his left. Such a slender lead was never going to be much of an insurance policy.

Quins attempted to shore up their front row and indeed their pack by bringing on fresh forwards but nothing could stop the bulldozer that was coming towards them.

Twelve minutes into the second half Brown levelled matters with his second penalty and by sensibly working the touchline it became obvious that for Quins there would be no escape route.

Drew Hickey and Thomas Lombard both went close to scoring a try before Brown kicked Worcester into the lead in the 57th minute. By now the frustration of the crowd was manifesting itself against the referee, Chris White, who had no option but to penalise the beleaguered Quins pack.

When Brown landed his fourth penalty the booing from the spectators was only interrupted by chants of "Cheat, cheat, cheat", directed at the referee.

Worcester have a talented wing in Darren O'Leary but they had no use for him here and he was replaced by Tommy Hayes, a player renowned not for his running but his kicking.

Although Hayes failed with a long-range penalty attempt, normal service was resumed when Brown, following another huge drive at a scrum, kicked his fifth penalty as the Worcester threequarters ran up to pat the forwards on the back. It was about their only exercise.

In the sixth minute of injury time Staunton got his third penalty, which at least gave Quins a bonus point, although by then many of the home supporters had already left the ground.

"I stand by my view that neither Quins nor Worcester will go down," Evans said. "There are a lot of critical games to go and if we can get 11 points from our last six matches we should be alright."

Harlequins: T Williams; S Keogh, G Duffy, G Harder, U Monye; J Staunton, S So'oialo; M Worsley, T Fuga (J Hayter, 69), C Jones (J Dawson, 40), J Evans (R Winters, 72), S Maling (S Miall, 67), N Easter, T Diprose, A Vos (capt).

Worcester: T Delport; D O'Leary (T Hayes, 58), D Rasmussen, T Lombard, B Hinshelwood; J Brown, M Powell (N Cole, 76); T Windo, A van Niekerk, C Horsman, T Collier (P Murphy, 75), C Gillies, D Hickey, B Macleod-Henderson, P Sanderson (capt).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).