Aviva Premiership: Harlequins leave it late to edge past struggling Newcastle
Two late penalties from Ben Botica gave Harlequins a scarcely-deserved 18-14 Aviva Premiership win over lowly Newcastle.
Last Updated: 15/02/14 8:11pm
Quins were trailing 14-12 with five minutes to go before those Botica penalties broke Newcastle's hearts.
For much of the game, the visitors were the better side; they were dominant in the scrum but could only manage one try through Alex Tait.
Rory Clegg kicked three penalties but crucially missed three which would have given his side a vital win in their battle against relegation.
An out-of-sorts Quins had to rely on tries from Ollie Lindsay-Haque and Sam Smith and eight points from the boot of Botica to give maintain their fourth position in the league table.
Harlequins were deprived of their England squad members and were also without fly-half Nick Evans with a toe injury.
Newcastle's director of rugby Dean Richards returned to the Stoop for the first time for a competitive match since the infamous fake blood scandal and he recalled Scotland internationals Mike Blair and Scott Lawson to the starting line-up.
Newcastle made a bright start but it was Quins who should have taken the lead after five minutes only for Botica to fail with a straightforward penalty attempt.
Minutes later, Botica appeared to be given another chance from a similar position but Quins chose a more attacking option. They elected for an attacking line-out and were immediately rewarded when, following strong runs from Jordan Turner-Hall and Ugo Monye, Lindsay-Hague was able to stroll through a large gap in the visitors' defence for the opening try.
Lindsay-Hague's try was the only score of the opening quarter, with both sides making elementary handling errors as they struggled to come to terms with the swirling wind.
The next 10 minutes saw Newcastle build up a head of steam, with centre Jamie Helleur twice breaching the home defence following neat passes from former Harlequin Clegg.
However ill-discipline prevented them from opening their account and worse was to follow when their captain Will Welch was sin-binned for dragging down a maul.
Quins took immediate advantage with Smith forcing his way over from close range for a try which Botica converted before Clegg put his side on the scoreboard with a well struck penalty into the wind.
Welch returned in time to see Clegg hit a post with another penalty attempt but despite this miss, Newcastle remained in contention at the interval, being only 12-3 behind.
With the wind now in their favour, Newcastle must have fancied their chances of an upset and were soon boosted by two successful penalties from Clegg to reduce the arrears to only three points.
For the first 15 minutes of the second half, Quins failed to get out of their own half and alarm bells started ringing for them when they were shunted backwards at a scrum and were penalised but Clegg's penalty again rebounded back off a post.
The home side reacted swiftly by making three substitutions in their front five in an attempt to stem the tide. A brilliant piece of skill from Botica saw him hoist an up-and-under and collect it to send Nick Easter racing into the opposition 22 but the number eight did not have enough pace to see off the cover defence.
This passage of play seemed briefly to rejuvenate Quins but it was only temporary as Newcastle produced their best movement of the match to see them go ahead with 10 minutes to go. Excellent passing sent Noah Cato flying down the right wing and Scott Lawson made a crucial burst to maintain the pressure, which ended with Tait just having enough impetus to squeeze over the line.
Clegg missed the conversion and it proved costly as with five minutes to go, Lawson was penalised and yellow-carded. Botica kicked the resulting penalty and another one with the last kick of the match to secure a fortunate win.