Harlequins’ GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP title hopes suffered a blow when their five-match unbeaten run came to an end at the hands of a Tom May-inspired Newcastle.
May, a centre playing at fly-half in the continued absence of the injured Jonny Wilkinson, showed composure with the boot and popped up to put the nail in the Quins coffin with an interception try.
For good measure, May completed the conversion – which denied Harlequins a bonus point but continued Newcastle’s drive for Heineken Cup rugby next season.
And though the future of Wilkinson, courted by Top 14 clubs Toulon and Bayonne, remains a concern for director of rugby Steve Bates, they are a side transformed with six successive wins under their belt in the league.
An ankle injury sidelined Danny Williams, meaning Newcastle handed a full debut to their on-loan Blaydon winger Andrew Fenby. Harlequins had to make do without winger Ugo Monye and scrum-half Danny Care, both on international duty for England against France at Twickenham. Care’s absence was not immediately felt, as Harlequins dominated the opening 15 minutes.
Hands in at the ruck persuaded Evans to kick for the first points after eight minutes. Three minutes later, the All Black fly-half crept through a gap and tried to find one of his three-quarters with a raking pass. Mike Brown was floored in trying to collect the pass but Evans kicked the resulting penalty. But Quins botched the restart and May’s goal cut Falcons’ deficit back to three.
Newcastle then demonstrated a cutting edge Quins had lacked. Scrum-half Micky Young leapt straight over the bodies in front of him, and when the ball was recycled, Tim Visser crashed over in the corner to make it 8-6. May missed the conversion attempt from the touchline and moments later his penalty from just inside the 22 also sailed wide.
Handling errors littered the latter part of the half, but Quins emerged from the infringements to slot another penalty courtesy of Evans. But Falcons had the last word in the half. Tane Tu’ipulotu’s break had the visitors floundering, and they collapsed their own scrum in the last minute, allowing May to put Newcastle back ahead at 11-9.
Visser almost had a second try to his name when he scythed through a static Quins defence just after the restart. Though the winger was halted by Jordan Turner-Hall, advantage was being played and May’s boot stretched the lead to five. Quins found themselves under immense pressure, and would surely have fallen further behind on 51 minutes if Tu’ipulotu had offloaded to Fenby 10 metres out.
Quins brought on a flurry of replacements in a frantic push for a score, and their front five were set up with a prime opportunity when a scrum was awarded five metres out. But when the Quins forwards were penalised for their impatience, Falcons could breathe easy. Another infringement 30 metres from the Quins line allowed May to put eight points between the sides, which he did with the minimum of fuss.
With 30 seconds left, Brown eventually grabbed the try that Quins had worked so hard for, and though Malone converted, it was too late. Quins had no choice but to run with it, but May intercepted and raced over to put the gloss on the result.