NEC Harlequins are the 2003/04 Parker Pen Challenge Cup Champions. In a grandstand finish to the final against Montferrand at the Madejski Stadium, a try under the posts from Simon Keogh in the last play of the game, converted by Andy Dunne, gave Quins victory by the narrowest of margins (27-26). Apart from winning the trophy, the result means that Quins have qualified for next seasons Heineken Cup.
It was Montferrand who had the better of the opening exchanges and full back Anthony Floch had the chance to open the scoring, but saw his penalty attempt drift wide of the target. Paul Burke made no mistake with his first penalty kick at goal, though Floch made amends for his opening miss to level the scores in similar fashion (3-3) after 15 minutes.
As the game approached the second quarter, Quins scored the opening try of the contest. Will Greenwood spotted the acres of space behind Montferrand winger Sebastien Kuzbik and his cross-field kick bounced kindly for Gavin Duffy, who gathered the ball and held-off a challenge from Kuzbik for a try in the right hand corner. Burke failed to add the two extra points on offer but Quins were now ahead by 8-3.
However, Montferrand hit back minutes later and their dominance up front saw hooker Olivier Azam touchdown under the posts and Floch's conversion put the French side in front for the first time in the game (10-8). Despite having flanker Marc Raynaud in the sin-bin for a professional foul, Montferannd stretched their advantage thanks to a long-range drop goal from fly half Gerald Merceron on 28 minutes.
Burke edged Quins back in front with two further penalties after 30 and 36 minutes respectively, but another three points from the boot of Floch meant it was Montferrand who had a two-point lead (16-14) at the halfway stage.
Merceron looked to add another drop goal to his tally immediately after the restart but was wide of the target, and some excellent defence from Quins prevented Montferrand adding any further points to their total. Burke put Quins in front by a point once again with his fourth penalty of the match after 50 minutes, before Montferrand powered their way over for their second try just before the start of the final quarter.
After winning possession at a lineout five metres from the Quins line, the Montferrand pack drove their way forward and scrum half Pierre Mignoni burrowed his was over in the corner. Floch added the two extra points with his successful conversion attempt from the touchline that put Montferrand six points clear (23-17). Burke had the chance to cut the deficit straight after the restart but amazingly pushed his penalty attempt from in front of the posts to the right of the target. Clearly struggling with injury, Burke was replaced by Dunne moments later.
With 17 minutes left to play, Montferrand centre Raphael Chanal was shown a yellow card and Dunne converted the resulting penalty that meant just three points separated the two sides (20-23). Floch cancelled this out three minutes later and restored Montferrand's six-point advantage.
Montferrand continued to put pressure on the Quins defence and had Merceron been successful with a drop goal attempt three minutes from time, then the French side would surely have gone on to win the match. However, with Montferrand again putting pressure on the Quins defence, Chanal was spotted by the touch judge punching at a ruck and the centre was shown a red card by referee Nigel Whitehouse.
After recycling the ball through a number of phases of play, Quins created the space they needed down the right flank. George Harder fed fellow winger Ugo Monye, who took play up to the Montferrand twenty-two. Keogh took a superb line on the inside of Monye and after breaking free from the initial defenders, had the pace to beat Aurelien Rougerie to the line and touchdown under the posts.
Trailing by a point, the responsibility of winning the cup went to Dunne and he made no mistake of adding the two extra points to Quins total from in front of the posts. No sooner had the ball flown through the uprights then Whitehouse blew his whistle to end the game, to set off wild celebrations amongst the Quins players and supporters alike.
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.