Harlequins gave themselves some welcome breathing space from the relegation battlers thanks to a 23-14 win over Newcastle.
Harlequins gave themselves some welcome breathing space from the relegation battlers thanks to a 23-14 win over Newcastle on Saturday.
Nick Evans was the hero, scoring all his team's points with two tries, two conversions and three penalties.
Both teams exhibited a desire to attack from the start but poor execution by both created a scrappy opening 10 minutes.
Harlequins shaded the exchanges with England scrum-half Danny Care working hard to get his backs in action.
Pressure built on Newcastle's defence but the errors at the start marred the match on a heavy pitch following days of rain. These mistakes let the visitors off the hook more than once before they worked their way into Harlequins' 22 by hammering consecutive penalties into touch.
When they won their lineout it was the turn of the hosts to hang on against sustained pressure as captain Carl Hayman led a number of driving mauls at the home defence.
Quins thought they had turned the ball over in the 18th minute only for referee David Rose to penalise Tom Guest for diving into the side of a ruck. Jimmy Gopperth chalked up the first points of the game with the resultant penalty.
The response was a blitz on the Newcastle defence, a Harlequins assault comprising 14 phases only for Mike Brown to waste it all with an off-target drop-goal attempt. But within seconds, Quins were back and this time Newcastle had to kill the ball to prevent Care from breaching their defences. Evans levelled the score with the penalty on 25 minutes and Gopperth was sin-binned.
This became a major issue for Newcastle when Quins were ruled offside three minutes later. With their goal ace in the bin Newcastle handed the ball to full-back Charlie Amesbury who hooked it horribly wide of the near post.
It needed a moment of class to lift the crowd and who better than the classiest player on view, former All Black fly-half Evans, who delivered in the 32nd minute.
Snatching up a loose pass from Care, Evans stunned Newcastle by spinning clear of an incoming tackler from behind, side-stepping another and accelerating clear of the cover to score a beauty of a try between the posts before adding the conversion.
Newcastle rallied and earned a penalty for offside four minutes from the break. Gopperth was back on the field having served his 10 minutes bin-time and sent the kick over with ease.
Newcastle launched a strong offensive from the restart and it was Quins' turn to struggle to get out of their 22.
And when they did break out with a fly kick by Jordan Turner-Hall, the visitors ran it straight back with devastating effect in the 47th minute.
An attack that began up the left was moved across field and a searing run by Amesbury up the right followed by an exchange of passes with Alex Walker resulted in a fine try when Walker outpaced the covering defenders. Gopperth missed the conversion.
Evans edged Quins back in front with a penalty after 50 minutes and another four minuts later after Newcastle pulled down a maul.
But it was frustrating for the home crowd that penalties were the only reward for some stirring attacks.
This was made all the more nail-biting when Newcastle reduced the arrears on 62 minutes with another Gopperth penalty. And his score inspired Newcastle to up their tempo and it needed a fine tackle by Brown to stopped a dangerous break on the left by Tom Biggs.
Quins could have wrapped things up six minutes from time when Tom Williams found space wide on the right. But when delivered a long flat pass, Williams knocked it on.
But two minutes later all was forgiven. Williams fielded a clearance and began an attack involving five players but was finished by the outstanding Evans who completed the scoring with the conversion.
Tries: Evans 2
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Guest, 7 Will Skinner (c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Robson, 4 James Percival, 3 John Andress, 2 Matt Cairns, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Aston Croall, 18 James Johnston, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Chris York, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 George Lowe.
Newcastle: 15 Charlie Amesbury, 14 Gcobani Bobo, 13 Rob Vickerman, 12 Tane Tu'ipulotu, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 8 Josh Afu, 7 Will Welch, 6 Ed Williamson, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 James Hudson, 3 Carl Hayman (c), 2 Rob Vickers, 1 Jon Golding.
Replacements: 16 Alex Walker, 17 Laurence Ovens, 18 Grant Shiells, 19 Filipo Levi, 20 Tim Swinson, 21 Peter Browne, 22 Micky Young, 23 Tom Catterick.
Referee: David Rose
Assistant referees: Kevin Stewart, Bob Mullis
Television match official: Roy Marfleet
Assessor: Tony Spreadbury