Despite the weather forecasts saying otherwise, NEC Harlequins took the field at 12.30pm local time against Cetransa El Salvador on a bright dry day in front of a crowd of approximately 2,000 enthusiastic local supporters, as well as a vociferous group of Quins travelers, clearly in Valladolid for a good time, as well as the rugby.
Following a good start Quins took an early lead with a try from Ceri Jones following a five metre penalty move which was converted by Andy Dunne. Quins continued to dominate the early stages, despite losing James Hayter to the blood bin as early as the 15th minute. He was temporarily replaced by Tani Fuga. After twenty minutes French referee Christian Berdos gave the home side a penalty for offside which Cetransa fly half, Rocque kicked from 40 metres. Score 7 -3.
In the twenty sixth minute NEC Harlequins scored their second try, this time following a 45 metre penalty kick by Andy Dunne. The line out on the five metre line was caught and the forwards drove over to give Ceri Jones his second try of the game. Converted by Andy Dunne the score was now 14 -3.
Some five minutes later Quins scored again from a line out, the scorer this time being Kai Horstmann. This try was unconverted and led to Quins going in at half time 19 - 3 up, with Kai Horstmann and Luke Sherriff standing out in a strong performance by the pack.
The second half opened poorly for Quins. Four turnovers in the first eleven minutes of the half saw Cetransa come back into the game firstly with an unconverted try, then a penalty kick and finally a penalty try. Score 19-18.
In the 57th minute head coach Mark Evans sent for the cavalry. On came Fuga, Dawson, Tiatia, Davison, Keogh, Bell and Deane to replace Hayter, Gomez, Winters, Rudzki, Moore, Taumalolo and Reay.
Cetransa had two further scoring opportunities on the 60th and 63rd minutes from penalty kicks but missed them both. The second of these penalties also saw Bill Davison receive a yellow card and ten minutes in the sin bin for reacting to a punch thrown at him.
The arrival of the seven replacements saw Quins lift the tempo of the game and two tries from Chris Bell and Tani Fuga saw NEC Harlequins take a far from comfortable 31-18 win in the first leg of this Parker Pen Challenge Cup tie.
There were several strong performance from the pack, particularly Ceri Jones, Luke Sherriff and Kai Horstmann, but the John Kingston man of the match award went to the NEC Harlequins supporters who worked vociferously throughout the entire game, getting behind the team (and by all accounts continued long into the night in the pubs and clubs of Valladolid).
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.