NEC Harlequins narrowly missed out on claiming their first Zurich Premiership victory of the season after losing out to Newcastle Falcons by 22-21 at Kingston Park. Tries from George Harder and Gavin Duffy put Quins into an 18-9 lead just after half-time, but 17 points from the boot of Jonny Wilkinson and a second half penalty try gave the home side a win by the narrowest of margins.
Newcastle opened the scoring after 15 minutes with Wilkinson converting the first of five penalties in the match. Jeremy Staunton responded in similar fashion to level the score at 3-3 before Quins scored the opening try. Gavin Duffy broke through a couple of tackles and his inside pass allowed Harder to power his way over for a score that Staunton converted to put Quins 10-3 ahead.
A second Wilkinson penalty 12 minutes before half-time cut the deficit by three points, though Staunton cancelled this out with his second penalty of the half. With the game in first half injury time, Luke Sherriff was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball and Wilkinson converted the resulting penalty to make the score 13-9 to Quins at the halfway stage.
The visitors made the perfect start to the second half by scoring their second try of the contest. Staunton broke through the Newcastle midfield before off loading to Duffy, who ran in the try. Staunton failed to add the two extra points on offer from the conversion but Quins lead was now up to nine points (18-9).
Back came the home side and persistent pressure from the pack saw flanker Colin Charvis be held up over the line. Not long after Sherriff returned to the field then Quins were back down to 14 men, with Simon Miall being penalised for persistent offside. Wilkinson's fourth penalty followed, before Newcastle were awarded a penalty try as the game approached the final quarter.
The Falcons pack drove play up to the line from a lineout and referee Sean Davey penalised Quins for once again deliberately killing the ball. Wilkinson made no mistake in converting the try from in front of the posts to put Newcastle back in front by a single point (19-18).
Staunton then missed a long range penalty attempt before Wilkinson's final penalty of the afternoon put the hosts in front by four points with ten minutes remaining. Newcastle flanker Mike McCarthy was then shown the yellow card for not rolling away in the tackle and Staunton set-up a grandstand finale by converting a penalty with two minutes left on the clock.
The Quins fly half had a couple of chances to win the match in injury time, but he saw a long range penalty and an attempted drop goal both go wide of the target and Newcastle held-on for the victory.
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.