Right-wing David Strettle’s second-half hat-trick of tries secured victory for Harlequins in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP today over Newcastle.
With former All Blacks fly-half Andrew Mehrtens providing the controlling influence, and contributing 13 points with his boot, Quins dominated the game for lengthy spells.
But first-half lapses saw them concede two tries in the space of two minutes and, almost unbelievably, they trailed 15-13 at the interval as their territorial supremacy counted for nothing.
The second half was a different story, with Harlequins piling on the pressure to secure a bonus-point win.
It could have been even more clear-cut. Mehrtens landed only one of three early penalty attempts before Newcastle suffered a double blow when winger Tom May and full-back Matt Burke went off in the 17th minute with blood injuries suffered in separate incidents.
May returned almost immediately but skipper Burke, gashed above his right eye, stayed off and the absence of the former Australian star was a serious blow. Worse followed a minute later when England prospect Toby Flood was yellow-carded for denying Quins a try by killing the ball.
Andre Vos claimed the line-out and prop Aston Croall, called up to replace the injured Ceri Jones, peeled off the front of the line to take the pass, run round the back and force his way over for a try which Mehrtens converted
Just when the home side looked in complete control, Newcastle, who had hardly figured as an attacking force, responded to Flood’s return from the sin-bin by hitting Quins with two tries in quick succession.
Flood was involved before fly-half Loki Crichton’s flat pass gave May the opportunity to run through both Harlequins left-wing Simon Keogh and full-back Mike Brown to dive over in the right hand corner, after 30 minutes,
Two minutes later flanker Eni Gesinde grabbed an interception inside his own 22 and ran almost the length of the pitch to set up their second try. Hauled down by Brown, he off-loaded to Flood before scrum-half Lee Dickson flicked the ball back for No8 Russell Winter to crash in for a try converted by Flood.
Mehrtens and Flood exchanged penalties before the interval, to send Newcastle in with a two-point advantage, but it took Harlequins only two minutes of the second half to recapture the lead and this time they retained their grip on the game.
England centre Mathew Tait spilled the ball inside the visitors’ half and Strettle kicked on and won the 60-metre chase, collecting a fortuitous bounce to run in between the posts.
Mehrtens converted, added a drop goal five minutes later and then delivered the long pass which sent Strettle diving over by the right hand corner flag for his second try following a sustained spell of forward pressure by Quins.
They secured the bonus point with their fourth try in the 65th minute. Newcastle were caught napping when scrum-half Steve So’oialo took a quick tapped penalty on a run for the line. Adrian Jarvis, who had replaced Mehrtens on the hour, converted.
Jarvis was on target again two minutes from time when Strettle burst through a disorganised and demoralised Newcastle defence to complete his hat trick.