Wilkinson leaves Quins in limbo

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The Independent Online

We know where we are with the Olympian citius, altius, fortius, but what to make of the Premiership's collective slogan: "Fitter, faster, harder"?

We know where we are with the Olympian citius, altius, fortius, but what to make of the Premiership's collective slogan: "Fitter, faster, harder"?

Precious little on this evidence. At least Newcastle, third in the table at start of play, will go into the forthcoming European encounters with a fifth win in eight in the Premiership, but there was not a PB in sight at The Stoop.

Those who looked to Jonny Wilkinson to provide some quality were to be disappointed, for Newcastle's No 10 had a day to forget, until, that is, he put over a penalty goal kick three minutes into injury time to win the match.

A litany of dropped passes and poor option-taking after Wilkinson's early penalty gave Newcastle the lead rendered the first half a shapeless mess until the visitors' full-back, Michael Stephenson, injected a touch of class with a 39th minute try converted by Wilkinson.

Then Inga Tuigamala hung on to the ball in a tackle, and Newcastle failed to fall back at the resulting penalty to offer Paul Burke the chance of three points from the 10-metre line in first-half added time. The Quins outside-half made no mistake, although the scoreboard at the north end failed to register the success. This was blamed on a power surge; perhaps some bright spark was hot-wiring the Quins' dressing room because the home side were charged up for the second period.

Three minutes in, Quins got their first try of the match, although, unsurprisingly, it was a Newcastle turnover that set it up. Even so, Keith Wood and Ben Gollings did well to feed Steve White-Cooper and, to borrow from the old joke, White went one way, Cooper went the other and Newcastle were left holding the hyphen as the flanker scored.

Burke's conversion bounced away off a post but by now the scoreboard had chugged into life again. Accordingly, Quins lost their all-too-brief impetus and were caught napping by Hall Charlton, on at scrum-half after Gary Armstrong, 34 yesterday, took a knock in the face.

Charlton was athletic, all right, and made a lovely 70 metre break from Jenner's pick-up at a scrum inside the Newcastle 22 before sending Stephenson in for his second try, Wilkinson converting. Burke kicked a penalty goal to bring Quins into the bonus point zone but, with wins only over Rotherham and Bristol so far, it was a four-point victory they sorely needed.

Will Greenwood's burst set up a chance out wide only for Tuigamala to go offside and spoil David Wilson's pass. Tuigamala was lucky not to go to the sin-bin, but Quins swallowed their complaints and forced their way to a second try with full-back Ryan O'Neill twisting over. Burke's tricky conversion from the left wing sailed over to put Quins ahead.

It was not enough. Replacement hooker Tani Fuga was blatantly offside at a ruck and Wilkinson landed the winning points with his left boot.

Harlequins: R O'Neill; J Williams, W Greenwood, N Greenstock, B Gollings; P Burke, P Richards (M Powell, h-t); J Leonard, K Wood (capt, T Fuga, 70), B Starr, G Morgan, A Jones (R Jenkins, 70), S White-Cooper, D Wilson, R Winters.

Newcastle: M Stephenson; L Botham, J Leslie, J Noon, V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong (H Charlton, 26); G Graham, R Nesdale, I Peel, S Grimes, D Weir (capt, H Vyvyan, 63), R Arnold, A Mower, J Jenner

Referee: Chris White (Cheltenham)

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