A 35-metre penalty from Jonny Wilkinson deep into injury time clinched an undeserved victory for the Newcastle Falcons. Minute's earlier NEC Harlequins had led for the first time in the match and looked destined to take the points. While Newcastle often displayed a greater cutting edge, Quins' spirited second half display was deserving of at least a draw. For the second week in succession, Quins had lost a game that they should have won.
A large crowd gathered at the Stoop and witnessed a gripping match from start to finish. On three minutes, Newcastle took the lead with a Wilkinson penalty after good early pressure. The opposition seemed to adjust best to the damp conditions while Quins initial attacks were littered with frequent handling mistakes. The home team's best chance of a breakthrough seemed to stem from Paul Burke, and his clever kicking constantly probed for gaps in the Newcastle defence. Quins pre-match strategy would surely have included restricting the kicking opportunities given to Wilkinson.
Still, on seventeen minutes, he was presented with a penalty following a clever Newcastle line-out. Surprisingly, this was not converted and Quins remained just three points adrift.
A stalemate developed as the game reached the midway point of the first half. This was only interrupted on twenty-six minutes with an injury to Newcastle's Gary Armstrong. His replacement, Hall Charlton, soon found himself in the thick of the action, as the home side stepped up the pressure. Unfortunately for Quins, poor play in the final third of the pitch meant that their possession went unrewarded. Once again basic errors undermined Quins good approach play, and there was no change to the scoreboard. Although their attacks in the first half were rare, Newcastle always looked the more threatening of the two sides. This proved to be the case on 38 minutes when Mike Stephenson burst through the Harlequin ranks to score, with Wilkinson converting. Almost completely against the run of play Newcastle had built up a 0-10 lead.
This deficit was not to last for long, as Quins finally had something to show for their efforts. Deep into injury time Paul Burke kicked a penalty, following an illegal challenge on Keith Wood.
At half time, Matthew Powell replaced Peter Richards. An early score was needed to boost the home team's spirit after a frustrating opening half.
This was exactly what happened as Steve White-Cooper charged over, minutes after the restart. Although Burke hit the post with the conversion Quins were right back in the game with the score at 8-10. Buoyed by this try Quins pressed forward incessantly only to be halted by some committed Newcastle defending. At this point it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors were pegged back. However this was not to be the case, as Newcastle struck a crucial blow.
From a scrum inside his own twenty-two, Charlton broke clear in to the Quins half. The supporting Stephenson had a clear run in and scored under the posts, with Wilkinson slotting the simple conversion. Quins were quick to respond, as Burke took advantage of a penalty conceded in front of the posts to make the score 11-17.
But rather than spurring on a Quins revival it was now the visitors turn to go on the offensive. For the next ten minutes Newcastle set up camp in the Quins half. If it was not for some strong tackling from the home defence, and David Wilson in particular, then Newcastle would have broken through on a number of occasions. As the Quins players looked to be tiring under the strain, a double substitution was made on seventy minutes. Tani Fuga and Rory Jenkins replaced a weary Keith Wood and Adam Jones.
The loss of Wood, a pivotal figure until now, did not seem to matter as Quins drove forward for one more attack. With the minutes ticking away a scrum was awarded right on the Newcastle line. Finally the ball was worked out to Ryan O'Neill and he crossed over the line to make the score 16-17. After an anxious wait for the home supporters, Quins took the lead for the first time as Burke converted the try. As injury time approached, Quins looked destined for a hard fought victory. A desperate final charge from Newcastle was making little progress and the opposition seemed to be running out of ideas.
Then, in a fatal loss of concentration, Quins committed the cardinal sin of conceding a penalty in Wilkinson territory. The cool headed England number 10 was never likely to miss, and seconds after finding themselves behind, Newcastle had regained the lead once more. The final whistle cruelly followed Wilkinson's penalty, and a shell-shocked Quins were left to wonder how they had let this match slip from their grasp. With neither team deserving to lose, a draw would have been the fair result.
Harlequins fan Ed Atkin won the Etihad Airways 'Up and Under' competition at the Northampton Saints game. As a result, he and a friend have won a holiday to Abu Dhabi courtesy of Etihad Airways and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.