Nick Easter scored a 12-minute hat-trick as Harlequins surged top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP table for the first time since autumn 2003 with a 10-try demolition of struggling Worcester.
Quins, who started the evening in fifth place, needed to win by a 30-point margin to overtake Leicester on top of the pile and they raced into a 19-7 half-time lead with tries from Tani Fuga, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw. Jordan Turner-Hall secured the bonus point after just 47 minutes before Ugo Monye, Mike Brown, Tom Williams and Easter’s hat-trick secured Quins their biggest victory over the season.
Worcester scored a try in each half from winger Charlie Fellows and prop Shaun Ruwers but they could not live with Quins’ dominance up front, power through the middle or pace out wide.
Despite being pressed into midweek action – the original fixture was postponed in January due to a frozen pitch – Harlequins were able to recall England duo Care and Monye, plus Under-20 star Turner-Hall and Argentina international Gonzalo Tiesi. In stark contrast, Worcester boss Mike Ruddock had to turn to his academy after the weekend defeat to bottom club Bristol. Five players were awarded their full Premiership debuts and it turned out to be men against boys.
Harlequins made an electric start and Worcester, forced to do anything just to hang in there, conceded eight penalties in the opening 11 minutes and had hooker Chris Fortey sin-binned for a high tackle on Will Skinner. Ruwers, one of those making his full debut, was given a rough time by a dominant Quins scrum and referee David Rose could have awarded a penalty try before Fuga drove over for the Worcester line for the opening score.
Care’s trademark sniping runs and Quins’ determination to keep the ball alive stretched Worcester’s defence almost to breaking point. The visitors barely got a touch in the opening 20 minutes. At times it was like watching Sevens and Quins should have scored twice but Care and fly-half Chris Malone were guilty of going themselves when better options were available.
The so-called white-line fever briefly cost them as Worcester pieced together a few phases and worked a reply for winger Fellows who was sent over by a neat inside pass from Michael Penn. The Warriors’ fightback was shortlived and Ruddock was left fuming in the stands as Worcester’s penalty count hit 15 by the interval and Quins raced into a 19-7 lead.
Care’s alertness paid dividends almost immediately after Fellows’ try and he darted from the back of a ruck through a gaping gap in the Worcester defence to score from 25 metres out. Skinner, the Quins captain, then opted to turn the screw and he turned down a kickable penalty in favour of a lineout and the bold call paid off. Jim Evans claimed the lineout and after a Tom Guest burst down the blindside, Robshaw charged over for Quins’ third try of the half.
Worcester had to respond quickly and did so, with Penn’s slippery break through the middle setting the platform for Ruwers to charge over from close range for the Warriors’ second try. But it did little to alter the momentum and Quins secured their bonus point with Turner-Hall’s try in the corner before Monye joined in on the action. David Strettle, a half-time replacement for Tiesi, slipped a deft pass out the back of his hand and Monye held off three Worcester defenders to score in the corner.
Referee Rose had been ready to penalise Worcester in the build-up to Monye’s try and when Graham Kitchener was caught off-side his patience snapped and the Worcester flanker was despatched to the sin-bin. Quins took maximum advantage with a brilliant, sweeping try, started by a scything break through the middle from Malone and finished by Brown after a brilliant basketball-style pass from Easter.
The England number eight made a huge impact as a half-time replacement for Skinner and he rumbled over for the two close-range tries that carried Quins top of the table. Worcester had long been broken. Williams added Quins’ ninth try after a brilliant, jinking run from Strettle before Easter applied the coup de grace by galloping clear to round off the victory in the last minute.