<strong>NEC Harlequins 29 Darlington Mowden Park 8 </strong>
Darlington entered the fray with all guns blazing at The Stoop. They forced Quins onto the back foot from the start with some very aggressive play both in attack and defence.
They drove at Quins and looked dangerous with ball in hand. From early on it was obvious they were not going to lie down and roll over. At points in the opening quarter Darlingtons exuberance looked like spilling over into foul play, but they then settled into playing some solid rugby.
Quins were finding it difficult to break down a Darlington team that where well drilled and strong in defence. The first chance of points fell to Gareth Rees on 20 mins but his penalty was pulled wide. This was met by a chorus of "Who ate all the pies?" from a vociferous away support. Kevan Oliphant then put Darlington into a deserved lead with well struck penalty on 25 mins.
Harlequins struggled to find any continuity and a neutral would have struggled to pick out which team belonged in the premiership. It was only the 5 minute period just prior to half time when Quins scored three tries through Adam Leach, David Officer and Daren O'Leary (two of which were converted by Rees)to lead 19-3 that Quins showed any sign of their supposed superiority.
Any thought of the late first half flurry continuing were soon dashed as Darlington scored a great try, scored by their captain and winger Mike Kent, to open the second half. Oliphant failed with the conversion from out wide.
The general pattern of game continued and Harlequins managed two more unconverted tries from Huw Harries (59 mins)and Nick Greenstock (64mins) as they ground their way to an unconvincing 29-8 victory.
All credit must go to everyone concerned with Darlington Mowden Park. Not least their heroic players, who can hold heads high, and hopefully continue to progress their league status.
NEC Harlequins now take on Bristol away at The Memorial Ground in the quarter-finals. There will have to be wholesale improvements in all departments if we hope to progress any further in this competition.
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.