Newcastle 3 – 24 Harlequins

Harlequins go from sixth to first in the congested Premiership table, at least temporarily, with a dominant win over bottom-of-the-table Newcastle, despite missing England trio; Bristol Bears impress again to end Sale’s 12-match winning home run and take third win in four matches

Last Updated: 06/01/24 12:02am

Harlequins' Alex Dombrandt in action with Newcastle Falcons' Kiren McDonald

Harlequins’ Alex Dombrandt in action with Newcastle Falcons’ Kiren McDonald

Harlequins moved to the top of the Premiership with a bonus-point 24-3 victory over bottom-of-the-table Newcastle at Kingston Park.

Falcons were backed by their biggest home crowd of the season as they went in search of their first league win since last March, but that scenario was never on the cards from the moment Quins wing Nick David opened the scoring after 67 seconds.

Further tries from Andre Esterhuizen, Jack Walker and George Hammond took the game away from the beleaguered hosts, who continue to struggle in the top flight with an under-equipped squad amid financial cutbacks.

The victory elevated Quins from sixth place to the top of a congested Premiership table – overnight at least – with Newcastle remaining rooted to the bottom, 12 points adrift of Gloucester.

Harlequins arrived in the north east without their first-choice half-back pairing of Danny Care and Marcus Smith – injured and rested respectively – as well as injured prop Joe Marler.

Will Edwards – deputising for Smith at stand-off – was instrumental in getting the visitors off to a perfect start when his magnificent looping pass out to the right released David to bolt clear with just over a minute on the clock. Edwards was off target with the conversion attempt.

Falcons remained on the back foot for the entire first quarter but defended doggedly to prevent the visitors adding to the scoreboard.

However, the scale of their task was heightened in the 25th minute when wing Adam Radwan was sent to the sin-bin for a late tackle on Will Porter that knocked the Quins scrum-half into the advertising board and left him with blood pouring from his head, prematurely ending his chance to impress in the absence of Care.

Quins required just four further minutes to capitalise on the extra man as centre Esterhuizen – part of South Africa’s recent World Cup success – darted over on the left to finish off a lovely flowing build-up involving most of the Quins back-line.

Edwards – Smith’s deputy at stand-off – was once again wide of the target with his conversion attempt.

Newcastle summoned some resolve towards the end of the half and they got themselves off the mark in the 37th minute when fly-half Brett Connon – on his 100th appearance – sent a penalty between the posts.

Falcons momentarily thought they were going to have a chance to bring the scores level in the last action of the first half when Iwan Stephens touched down on the left, but it was chalked off for obstruction.

A trademark hooker’s try by Walker from the back of a lineout effectively killed off the hosts’ challenge seven minutes into the second half, with Edwards converting.

Further power play from the visitors allowed lock Hammond to push over under the posts in the 56th minute. Edwards again added the extras as Quins were able to enjoy a comfortable finale.

Impressive Bristol end Sale’s 12-match home winning run

Bristol Bears' Josh Caulfield is tackled by Sale Sharks' Ross Harrison

Bristol Bears’ Josh Caulfield is tackled by Sale Sharks’ Ross Harrison

Sale Sharks missed the opportunity to return to the Premiership summit after a 22-14 home defeat to Bristol Bears.

Improving Bears prevailed thanks to a hugely impressive all-round performance as they condemned the hosts to defeat on their own patch following 12 straight home league wins.

It is now three wins in four games for Pat Lam’s Bears, who defended solidly throughout.

As well as being without the injured George Ford, last season’s Premiership finalists Sale got themselves off to a disappointing start.

Bears were clearly intent on continuing their recent decent momentum domestically, and they went in front early.

Some purposeful approach play paved the way for Harry Randall to barge over close to the posts, with ex Sharks man AJ MacGinty comfortably adding the extras.

Lam’s team kept possession well, while Sale looked somewhat off the pace.

It was no major surprise when the Bears doubled their lead shortly before the 20-minute mark, and it was another poor try for the hosts to concede.

An attempted box kick from Gus Warr on halfway was charged down by Joe Batley, with the ball bouncing out ideally into the grasp of Gabriel Ibitoye, who charged over the line almost unopposed.

MacGinty converted as the lead stretched to 14-0.

A charge-down at the other end gave Sale a welcome chance to finally break through after half-an-hour.

This time Jonny Hill was the one to profit, as he blocked a Randall kick and was left to nab an easy try, which Rob du Preez routinely converted.

The score remained 14-7 to the Bears at the interval, largely thanks to Kieran Marmion’s brilliant last-gasp tackle to deny Joe Carpenter in the corner just before the break.

It was 19-7 to the Bears just two minutes after the restart. Skipper Steven Luatua expertly off-loaded to Max Malins, and he sailed over in the corner.

Alex Sanderson made a triple change in a bid to re-energise his Sharks team, as they were staring down the barrel with less than half an hour remaining.

However, with the normally influential Warr now also off the field, Bears continued to hold their hosts at bay.

At one point the visitors were forced to defend for their lives following a spell of intense pressure close to the Bears’ line.

The Sharks kept plugging away, but time was running out. Their determination was eventually rewarded when Augustin Creevy got over at the back of a maul, and fly-half Du Preez’s accurate kick reduced Sale’s deficit back down to just five points.

But a shot to the head by Sale replacement Ben Bamber then proved costly as MacGinty’s penalty made it 22-14, forfeiting a valuable losing bonus point for the hosts.

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