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Stand-in Clegg produces stand-out performance

06 Mar 2010
Stand-in Clegg produces stand-out performance

Stand-in fly-half Rory Clegg sank Worcester deeper into the relegation scrap, scoring all Harlequins’ points at the Twickenham Stoop.

Just when Harlequins thought they had turned a corner in the Guinness Premiership, recent defeats threatened to draw them into the relegation scrap that has enveloped their guests.

And the loss of former New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans, who failed a fitness test hours before kick-off, was a major setback given how much they rely on his experience and guile as their main play-maker. But Clegg deputised and ensured Evans was not missed.

Worcester fielded an all ex-Harlequin back row of Tom Wood, Kai Horstmann and team captain Pat Sanderson, who were hoping to play the same style of no-nonsense rugby that delivered a 13-0 victory over Newcastle at Sixways in their previous outing.

With so much at stake, it was hardly surprising small errors punctuated the opening exchanges as both sides tried to establish control. Worcester made the early running, forcing Quins to defend and concede lineouts from clearance kicks. But it was Quins that opened the scoring in the ninth minute.

The game’s first penalty midway inside the Quins half saw them break out up the middle via George Lowe. His break was halted but support runners ensured a sustained attack that finished with Clegg being driven over on the right from close range. His conversion attempt, however, was miscued off the tee.

But Worcester hit back two minutes later when Chris Latham completed a swift attack, his pass sending Miles Benjamin in close to the flag on the left. Matthew Jones missed the conversion. Harlequins thought they had scored a second try in the 20th minute when Lowe chipped ahead and beat the defence to reach the ball in goal. But referee Martin Fox ruled he had knocked on in the act of attempting to touch down.

Worcester’s defence had to be at their best to keep Quins out after Jordan Turner-Hall’s 26th minute break sparked a succession of surges towards the goal-line. But the home crowd became agitated by the slowness of the ball from rucks. Time and again it was clearly out at the feet of scrum-half Karl Dickson. But he repeatedly delayed getting ball out to the backs, allowing Worcester to smother the eventual move.

Having survived something of a siege, Worcester then earned a penalty in the 32nd minute. Jones stepped up and sent a fierce kick towards the posts only for the ball to swerve sharply outside the near post at the last second. Tempers were fraying towards half-time, and referee Fox moved Worcester back an additional 10 metres after dissent towards his decision to award Quins a penalty for a foul on Tom Guest.

Quins made a strong start to the second half but, despite possession and territory, failed to turn the advantage into points. Worcester broke out to show how it is done in the 50th minute. Three phases of play, pressure in the drive and Quins conceded a penalty in front of their posts that Jones banged over without fuss.

Within three minutes, the scores were tied again. This time Worcester killed ball some 35 metres out and Clegg’s penalty kick was straight down the middle. But Quins kicked a succession of clearances directly to Worcester’s backs, putting themselves under pressure, and they fell behind again in the 63rd minute. Fox spotted hands in a ruck and Jones kicked an impressive goal from wide left and 40 metres out.

In keeping with the game’s pattern, Quins had the chance to level yet again when Worcester were penalised for coming in at the side of a ruck, and Clegg made no mistake in the 66th minute. And Clegg had the home crowd roaring in the 70th minute when he boomed over a towering penalty from halfway to edge Harlequins into the lead – and this time they did not relinquish it.

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