Harlequins 54 Newcastle 26
Attack coach Nick Evans has promised that Harlequins will not retreat into the shells when the pressure of the Gallagher Premiership play-offs kicks in against Bristol next week.
Their final round eight-try demolition of Newcastle Falcons was another demonstration of the all-court style that Harlequins have embraced since the departure of Paul Gustard as head of rugby in January. This season Harlequins have scored a league high 703 points and an average of more than four tries per game with half backs Danny Care and Marcus Smith playing with a heady mix of freedom and flair.
The question is whether they can keep true to their principles at Ashton Gate. Evans, who was fly-half for Harlequins’ last title winning side in 2012, knows full well how the play-offs can transform a team’s approach.
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He cites the semi-final against Northampton in that title winning season in which they came from behind to win 25-23. “All that year, we had been really free-flowing and then in the semi-final we tightened up. We probably did not deserve to win and it was only in the last eight minutes that we played like ourselves.”
It is a lesson that Evans and the rest of the Harlequins management intend on pressing home this week. “Just because it is a semi-final, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Evans said. “There’s no point throwing out what we have done to get to where we are. The most important thing is that we control the week and control the emotions. We don’t want to let the occasion get the better of us so we tighten up and don’t throw that pass.”
At times, Harlequins can look like rugby’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters with players freewheeling in total synchrony. Care’s second try and Louis Lynagh’s score were a perfect encapsulation of coordinated improvisation that could only be executed with perfect technique and a lot of hours on the training paddock.
And for all their reputation for throwing the ball around with gay abandon, Evans says they are not playing kamikaze rugby. “There’s risk and management,” Evans said. “Certain parts of the game require management. We are in the top three teams for kicking which shows that we are not just running everything. The key thing is that if the opportunity is there you have to be brave enough to take it.”
There are plenty of similarities between Harlequins’ approach and that of Bristol who finished the regular season at the top of the table. The teams’ last meeting at Ashton Gate produced one of the games of the season that Bristol won 35-33 after Kyle Sinckler’s converted injury-time try.
“I think we are the top two teams for attack and if it is like today then it will be great,” Evans said. “Last time it was not actually that structured. Both teams made breaks but there was not a lot of control, which we hope to do better with. The stats will show that they are the form team but that comes with its own pressure. We ran them close the last time we played them. I am sure we are probably underdogs but that suits as a club. If it is like today then it will be a great game.”
MATCH REPORT: Mike Brown says farewell to Harlequins as side registers big win over Newcastle
By Daniel Schofield
The Stoop bade farewell to its favourite son in Mike Brown as Harlequins warmed-up for their Premiership play-off match away to Bristol Bears with a resounding eight-try victory against Newcastle Falcons.
The full back, who was not available for selection due to suspension, will join Newcastle this summer after 16 years at Harlequins where he has set records both for appearances and tries. But more than mere numbers, Brown carried the club’s competitive fire and spirit.
Brown’s mantle has now been passed on to a new generation, led by Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt, who will be entering a play-off campaign for the first time, assisted by the grizzled campaigners Danny Care and Joe Marler.
All four were excellent here. Care scored two classic scrum-half tries to take his tally for the season to 12, behind only the remarkable Sam Simmonds.
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Smith continues to flash class and will now face the litmus test of his burgeoning potential in the pressure cooker of the play-offs against a Bristol team who did the double on them this season.
“It will definitely be a wide expansive game,” Dombrandt, the captain said. “It is important that we are connected in defence and in finals rugby you have to take your chances.”
On a day when the sun burnt hot, the tries rained nonstop. Dombrandt created the first for Jack Kenningham with a good drive from the base of the scrum which also provided the platform for Care to snipe his first score. Each time, hooker George McGuigan replied with a close-range try for Newcastle.
Then Quins broke free with two beautiful scores before halftime. A Marler turnover and some lightning quick transition work led to Care’s second before more quick hands put full back Tyrone Green over in the corner at full stretch.
The pick of Quins’ tries came when Smith’s kick was gathered by Tom Lawday and fed back inside to Louis Lynagh who danced down the touchline.
That however was left in the shade by a superb individual effort by Adam Radwan. The wing, included in England’s squad for the summer internationals, received a ball static in midfield and proceeded to beat six defenders with an outside arc, spin and final burst of acceleration.
Joe Marchant, Martin Landajo and Joe Gray rounded off the scoring for Harlequins with Jamie Blamire earning a bonus point for Newcastle.
Scoring sequence: 5-0, Kenningham try; 7-0, Smith con; 7-5, McGuigan try; 7-7, Connon try; 12-7, Care try; 14-7, Smith con; 14-12, McGuigan try; 19-12, Care try; 21-12, Smith con; 26-12, Green try; 28-12, Smith con; 33-12, Lynagh try; 33-17, Radwan try; 33-19, Connon con; 38-19 Marchant try; 40-19, Smith con; 40-24, Blamire try; 40-26, Hodgson con; 45-26, Landajo try; 47-26, Marchant con; 52-26, Gray try; 54-26, Tapuai con
Harlequins: T Green (C Murley, 61); L Lynagh, J Marchant, B Tapuai, A Morris; M Smith (L Northmore, 66), D Care (M Landajo, 62); J Marler (S Botta, 64), S Baldwin (J Gray, 55), W Louw (W Collier, 55), M Symons (H Tizard, 60), D Lamb, T Lawday (J Chisholm, 65), J Kenningham, A Dombrandt
Newcastle Falcons: J Hodgson; A Radwan, G Wacokecoke, L Burrell (P Lucock, 48), M Carreas; B Connon (A Tait, 67), L Schreuder (M Young 47); A Brocklebank (J Blamire, 55), G McGuigan (K Cooper, 55), T Davidson (R Ah You, 55), G Peterson (P Van der Walt, 60), S Robinson, W Welch, M Wilson, C Chick (C Fearns, 50)