With my team Saracens playing oop North against Sale Sharks I was thrilled to get a text from my lovely friend Sue to ask if I wanted to take her place at the Stoop. There was no hesitation, not only a game of rugby ahead but also an early lunch with Henry, Sue’s very charming husband, a total no brainer! And so after a night of battering winds I set off for Twickenham with more than a little trepidation having listened to a lorry driver talking about high sided vehicles falling over!! Deepest joy! I have to confess I gave the lorries a very wide berth on the M25, I probably looked slightly mad, rather that than squashed I thought! After a very amenable lunch at Patisserie Valerie we walked to the ground. As we walked across the stand we met Rob Buchanan, Quins sidelined Hooker, he explained his ongoing difficulty with what must have been an excruciating injury! His Pectoral muscles detached from the bone! Oh my word, that doesn’t bear thinking about! Then to add to his woes bone has been growing where bone really shouldn’t be; the less than fun part of being a rugby player. He hopes to be back in action in action by March; maybe just in time to face Saracens!
And so to the game, Quins had played Wasps at home last week and had what I believe was a lucky win after a poor performance. Falcons played Bath away and were beaten 24 to 6. The teams sit at different ends of the league, but were possibly teams lacking in form; with Quins missing their International players. 6 Nations is a tough time for some teams and can cause some upsets; would today be one of them? The weather conditions were such that a free flowing game of rugby would be unlikely. I’ve been impressed with Luke Wallace at each of the games I’ve been to this season and he showed his intent early on as he put in a scary tackle on Rory Clegg after he gathered a pass that had gone behind him. Ben Botica had the first chance of points after Quins were awarded a penalty in the ruck; there was an injured Falcons player in his sight lines as he prepared and a medical man still there when he kicked; that as well as the wind may well have been a factor in the miss. Wallace again showed his enthusiasm as he charged down the kick out.
The next piece of play of note was a great break by Fraser McKenzie the Falcons second row; he raced down the field, but pretty much on his own! The resulting penalty for holding on was an inevitability; the lack of progress and support at times in the first half by Falcons was to prove perplexing. Ben Botica chose to kick to touch after 11 minutes rather than at the posts; a decision that was to be vindicated as the ball was played across the field. Ugo Monye drew in 3 defenders on the left wing and a gap appeared on the right; Ollie Lindsay-Hague showed his turn of pace and ran in to score a well worked try; Botica failed to add the extras. There were a number of penalties given from scrums by Mr Doyle, one frustration of watching games live is that the crowd often have no idea for the reason! That was most certainly the case in this game as the signals were often not clear; several penalties were exchanged midway through the half. Andy Saull seemed to attempt a charge down of a Quins tackle and was further penalised as Quins were moved 10m further up the pitch, bit of a schoolboy error. Falcons were to face a bigger blow as Quins went on an impressive rolling maul; captain Will Welch took a yellow card for the team as the maul was pulled down. The average points scored against 14 men is 7 and this proved to be the case for Quins as Sam Smith ran down the line to touch down in the corner, after much deliberation by the TMO the try was awarded and this time Botica scored a difficult conversion.
Falcons went on the attack again and this time were awarded with a kickable penalty; Rory Clegg, clearly an accomplished kicker stepped up and slotted the ball over the posts to give the away team their first points. Maurie Fa’asavalu, one of my favourite union players, having been a league player I always admired, transgressed with a clumsy rather than nasty high tackle. Ugo Monye however flicked the ball back into the field to ensure Newcastle didn’t gain any advantage. Quins had a further attacking opportunity with Karl Dickson making a great run through and Ollie Lindsay-Hague showing his 7’s credentials; but the half time whistle went and the teams went in Quins 12 Falcons 3.
Now, during half time my thoughts were that Quins could well go on to get a bonus point win; however it soon became plain that Newcastle had other plans; they’d clearly had the game changing half time rant. The Falcons were awarded an early penalty and Alex Tait kicked to touch, they set up a rolling maul from the lineout and once the ball had appeared and had been taken into a ruck Quins were penalised. Rory Clegg was this time given a very easy kick straight in front of the posts, he duly kicked the 3 points closing the gap to 6. Another penalty was awarded after a scrum collapse given as a result of Sam Smith knocking on, Rory Clegg was taught well by his former club; he scored the 3 points. My notes about the next passage of play tell me that it took 17 minutes for Quins to get into the Newcastle half and that nothing was working for them; too many of the men in possession passed rather than back themselves; they also tried to play the ball out of their own half too often, rather than make their opponents attack from their own half. I felt that Ryan Shortland Falcons number 11 put in an illegal tackle as Quins were attacking, there were no arms to be seen; it was right in front of the touch judge, my comment, ‘what are they for?’ Quins were later awarded a penalty but lost any advantage as Fa’asavalu was penalised for crossing. They also lost the advantage of a great run by Nick Easter as he found himself going solo, the inevitable holding on when isolated was penalised, Dickson disagreed and his team were marched m further back. You would imagine professional players got the, not disagreeing with the ref thing!
Newcastle produced their best play, passing the ball across the pitch, Noah Cato’s great run was added to by a burst of speed by Scott Lawson and Alex Tait was able to place the ball over the line. Rory Clegg missed the kick this team but the visitors were ahead for the first time by 2 points. It appeared rather than a bonus point win Quins were facing a loss. However they went on the attack close to the Falcons line, a rolling maul was pulled down and penalised, but no card shown. The yellow card did however come from JP Doyle’s pocket moments later, shown to Lawson, rather than his colleague who leapt over the ruck in a salmon like manner. The kick was an easy one and Botica converted putting his team ahead by a single point with just over 4 minutes remaining. The last kick of the match vanquished all hope for Newcastle as Botica converted a penalty, the game finished Harlequins 18 Newcastle 14, a second week in a row for the Quins fans to be biting their nails to the quick!
A very odd thing happened as the game was ending! A clear blue sky appeared above the ground, anyone could imagine that Spring may actually make an appearance this year! The ground staff had clearly made a great job of looking after the pitch after such dreadful weather; I wonder how many other teams will consider the 4G option for their playing surface. I’ve got a monster weekend of rugby to come; Cardiff on Friday for Wales v France followed by Twickenham on Saturday for England v Ireland; very much hoping for 2 home wins to open up the 6 Nations table. Then on Sunday I’m back to my team – Saracens v Exeter, that’ll be an interesting game, they’re always a hard team to beat with their big strong pack; another home win please!