Rugby Union: Harlequins humble Newcastle as Chris Robshaw returns to action

Michael Aylwin at the Stoop
The Guardian
Harlequins humble Newcastle as Chris Robshaw returns to action
Harlequins humble Newcastle as Chris Robshaw returns to action

A match against the All Blacks this was not, but if Chris Robshaw wants to line up against the same this summer the resumption of his campaign went about as well as he could have hoped. He might have wished for rather more in the way of opposition, but the cobwebs have been cleared and morale restored.

Another five points keeps Harlequins in the hunt for the Premiership play-offs, moving them into the top six, but their run-in from here is unforgiving. Just the kind of test, then, that any prospective Lion needs after this forgiving run‑out. Quins have two matches – against Saracens at Wembley in a fortnight, followed by Exeter at home on Good Friday – before Warren Gatland announces his Lions tour squad next month. Whether it is enough for Robshaw to state his case, in the fiercest of competition, remains to be seen.

“It’s a brave man who discounts him from the Lions,” said his director of rugby, John Kingston. “He’s a wonderful rugby player and his ability to come back in after three months out and put in a performance like that is a reflection of the guy.”

After 12 weeks out with a shoulder injury, he played the whole game without any obvious discomfort. “The plan was to let him run though,” Kingston said. “Chris loves it. He gets better the longer it goes on. One of his greatest strengths is his engine.”

There is not much in the way of margin for error if Quins want to make the top four, which Kingston still thinks they can after a remarkable win in Gloucester three weeks ago, having dismissed their chances following the home defeat to Leicester the round before that.

Newcastle, meanwhile, are in that no‑man’s-land stretch of the table without much to play for. They can be vulnerable on their long away trips at the best of times.

On a sunny day in Twickenham featuring lots of internationals restored to the Harlequins ranks with a point to prove – and points to gather – it was a recipe for the 50-point thrashing that duly followed.

An early try for Newcastle, finely worked by Mark Wilson for Sonatane Takulua to finish, rendered Quins’ play-off prospects even more remote, but those returning internationals were suitably chastened. Robshaw was as influential as any of them. One other dark horse for Lions selection, though, is Tim Visser.

The Scotland winger has improved his all-round game beyond recognition, but the running threat by which he made his name sparked the first two tries, beating players down the left for both. The first time, Robshaw was on his shoulder to keep the move alive, which was eventually finished between the posts by Rob Buchanan in superb fashion.

For the second Visser exchanged passes with Mike Brown, who ran with ease through the tackle of Joel Hodgson to finish. Hodgson was having one of those days of his – hot and cold. A twinkling run here, a missed tackle there and just before the break, having skipped nimbly down the right to set up an attack, he threw a pass straight into the arms of Joe Marchant. There were still plenty of Newcastle bodies between Marchant and the line, but he remained untouched as he pulled away from them.

The impression that Newcastle’s defence had taken its leave was reinforced early in the second half. Brown was finding lines every which way through the middle of it and again when he waltzed through to set up Marland Yarde for the bonus-point try. Juan Pablo Socino was in the bin for that one and almost as soon as he returned Evan Olmstead took a break there too.

Two further Quins tries followed, a driven lineout followed by another multi-dimensional affair, sparked by Brown, sustained by Robshaw and finished by the dancing feet of Care. Newcastle ran through a few phases thereafter, scoring a second try in the final quarter, but Quins registered a seventh in the dying minutes to bring up the half-century.

For Robshaw and co, things start to get serious now. “He has that nous and understanding that England lacked against Ireland,” said his former mentor, Dean Richards, now in charge of Newcastle. “He’s as good as anyone he’d come up against on tour in New Zealand. I’d have him in my team any day.”

Harlequins Brown; Yarde, Marchant, Roberts, Visser (Alofa 73); Evans (Swiel 59), Care (Mulchrone 74); Marler (Lambert 68), Buchanan (Gray 68), Collier (Sinckler 56), Merrick, Horwill (Matthews 65), Robshaw, Ward (capt), Luamanu.

Tries Buchanan, Brown, Marchant, Yarde, Luamanu, Care, Swiel. Cons Evans 6. Pens Evans 2.

Newcastle Tait; Goneva, Waldouck (Harris 56), Socino, Sinoti; Hodgson (Delany 50), Takulua (Young 56); Vickers (Harris 31), Lawson (Sowrey 50), Welsh (D Wilson 52), Green, M Wilson, Chick (Olmstead 46), Welch (capt), Latu (Hogg 56).

Sin-bin Socino 34, Olmstead 49.

Tries Takulua, M Wilson. Cons Takulua, Delany. Pen Takulua.

Referee Tom Foley. Attendance 14,500.

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