Coaches are fond of saying the season is a marathon and not a sprint but, whatever the length of the race, it helps to get off to a good start. Harlequins, 这 defending champions who beat Exeter in the greatest final in Premiership history last season, did that after opening the defence of their crown in typically exhilarating fashion.
Louis Lynagh, the precociously talented son of the former Australia captain Michael Lynagh, whose two dramatic late tries won the title for Quins at Twickenham, weighed in with another predatory double at Newcastle.
With Joe Marchant and Danny Care also touching down to secure the bonus point, it was a pleasing way for Tabai Matson to begin his reign as Quins’ senior coach. Tommy Allan dovetailed superbly with Care to ensure Marcus Smith, unavailable following his involvement with the Lions tour, was not missed.
“They are different players but Tommy slotted into the system really well, and people might be surprised,” Matson said. “It was great he won man of the match and stepping into the system is not easy unless you’re smart, skilful and experienced. That’s what Tommy brings to table and the bonus point is more than you could have hoped for up here.”
In Adam Radwan, the lightning-quick winger who scored a hat-trick on his England debut against Canada in the summer, Newcastle had a player who constantly threatened to take centre stage and did so to devastating effect twice during the first half.
Radwan scored one try and created another for the exciting 19-year-old debutant centre, Iwan Stephens, to underline his undoubted talent. Despite defeat, the Falcons’ spirits never sagged and a second-half score from Louis Schreuder and a penalty from Will Haydon-Wood gave them a deserved losing bonus point.
Dean Richards, who has embarked on his 10th season as Newcastle’s director of rugby, has signed Mike Brown and Nathan Earle from his erstwhile employers but injuries prevented them making their debut in this season-opener. The former Quins director of rugby felt the officiating went against his side, with Carl Fearns furious after having an early claim for a try dismissed by the TMO.
“The boys are obviously frustrated in the changing room, but I don’t think they should be too hard on themselves,” said Richards, who took heart from his side’s display.
A new season might have brought a new coach for Quins in Matson, but their style and philosophy has remained the same. Evidently still bubbling from their incredible 40-38 win in last season’s Twickenham title decider, the visitors struck the opening blow when Care threw an exquisite long pass out to Lynagh on the right flank. Tom Penny, Newcastle’s full-back, got a touch to the ball, but could not prevent it falling invitingly into the arms of Lynagh, who scurried over in the corner.
Quins scored again when Allan collected possession in midfield, drove at the heart of Newcastle’s defence before his deft pass ushered Marchant over the line inside the right channel.
Yet Newcastle, and particularly Radwan, roused themselves in spectacular fashion and finally got off the mark in the 23rd minute. Radwan collected Brett Connon’s pass inside the right channel and showed impressive speed and strength to gallop through the visitors’ defence and over the line.
That poured confidence into Richards’s side and they struck again five minutes later when Radwan collected possession just inside Quins’ half. With a combination of clever footwork and searing pace, Radwan evaded a clutch of visiting defenders and then showed intelligence to send the supporting Stephens racing under the posts.
The latest England training squad is announced on Tuesday and Radwan’s performance will have been noted by Eddie Jones.
The try by Stephens, a former Leeds Rhinos prospect and son of the former Wales fly-half Colin Stephens, cut Quins’ lead to two points at the break. But four minutes after the interval Allan expertly stepped past the Newcastle prop Logovi’i Mulipola and sent Lynagh over in the right corner for his second try.
Still Newcastle kept fighting and their scrum-half, Schreuder, finished off a break down the left flank to cut the visitors’ lead again in the 54th minute. But Care was on hand to score from close range five minutes later and put the game beyond Newcastle.
Whether or not Quins can retain their title remains to be seen, but Richards said: “I hope they do because they play a good brand of rugby. But they will be the hunted rather than the hunter, so it will be a slightly different position this year.”