Newcastle Falcons went within a whisker of pulling off a memorable victory over Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop in the Aviva Premiership.
Leading 14-12 with ten minutes to play thanks to a courageous try from Alex Tait, the Falcons were unable to hold on as two penalties in quick succession from Ben Botica secured the spoils for Harlequins.
A Newcastle display dripping with pride and passion will have pleased director of rugby Dean Richards, who now prepares his charges for back-to-back home games against Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers respectively.
Quins took an eleventh minute lead when full-back Ollie Lindsay-Hague finished off a sweeping backline move to touchdown. Botica, who had earlier missed a simple penalty in front of the posts, turned down the opportunity of another kick at goal in favour of a punt into the corner. And his decision paid dividends as the pressure took its toll on Newcastle’s rear-guard with the Londoners giving the ball air from the subsequent lineout to produce the first score of the contest. Botica failed to add the extras but the hosts had the advantage at 5-0.
Newcastle enjoyed a period of sustained pressure midway through the first period and underlined that they were more than capable of breaking down Conor O’Shea’s side. Rory Clegg’s neat flat pass to Jamie Helleur unlocked Quins’ defensive line to set-up an attack, but following a series of carries and some free flowing rugby, the men from the capital survived. Ryan Shortland, back on the wing following a stint on the sideline, was impressing off the wing, while Andy Saull was also in fine fettle in the back-row.
The northeasterners’ promise in attack was dealt a blow just short of the half hour mark when Quins winger Sam Smith touched down in the corner via the TMO’s approval. Botica slotted home the touchline conversion to put Quins 12-0 in front. Clegg reduced the margin to 12-3 on 29 minutes with a sublime penalty from 25 metres out in blustery conditions. The former Quins man had the chance to double his tally for the afternoon and reduce the deficit to within six points with the boot once more, but this time his effort cannoned the near post. Quins mounted one final charge towards Newcastle’s line with the clock ticking down, however, solid defensive resistance ensured the score remained 12-3 going into the break.
Rejuvenated for the second half, the Falcons returned to the field in positive fashion and a Clegg penalty on 44 minutes got the visitors to within six points of Quins. Referee JP Doyle penalised the home side for not releasing and the Newcastle No.10 nailed the three points. Clegg repeated the trick moments later, a carbon copy of his first to turn the screw on Quins with the hosts now holding a slender 12-9 lead. Playing in the right areas of the field, the visitors were sticking to an effective game plan, and on 54 minutes Clegg missed the chance to level the score with his fifth shot at goal, this time smashing the post and Quins were let off the hook.
With 15 minutes to play Quins created their first clear-cut opportunity of the game with Tom Casson slicing through the middle following a garyowen, but Newcastle scrambled in defence to survive. With Quins threatening a try, it was the Falcons who registered the next score in dramatic style with Tait burrowing his way over the line following nimble handwork from Ally Hogg, Scott MacLeod and Scott Lawson. Tait managed to squeeze across the whitewash with the decision going upstairs to the TMO. Clegg pulled the conversion wide, and Newcastle led 14-12. However, two penalties late on denied the Falcons the win, and Richards and co had to settle for the losing bonus point.
Lindsay-Hague, Smith, Casson, Turner-Hall, Monye, Botica, Dickson, Lambert, Ward, Doran-Jones, Kennedy, Matthews, Fa'asavalu, Wallace, Easter
Replacements Gray, Marfo, Sinckler, Guest, Trayfoot, Stuart, Grimoldby, Sackey
Cato, Tait, Tiesi, Helleur, Shortland, Clegg, Blair, Vickers, Lawson, Brookes, MacLeod, McKenzie, Welch, Saull, Wilson
Replacements McGuigan, Strain, Tomaszczyk, Tomes, Hogg, Fury, Hodgson, Powell
referee: JP Doyle