This English Premiership match saw one of the surprise teams of this year face one of the form teams, as Newcastle Falcons, eyeing up a top half finish, faced Harlequins, who have definitely made a positive reaction to Paul Gustard’s departure as Director of Rugby earlier this season. This tactical analysis will look at several key aspects of this game, including how Newcastle got on the front foot, and how their two centres, Luther Burrell and Matias Orlando, were instrumental in their good performance. From Harlequins’ perspective, they had two different halves of rugby, and we will look at each one in turn.
Newcastle Falcons Harlequins
15. T. Penny 15. A. Morris
14. A. Radwan 14. J. Marchant
13. M. Orlando 13. L. Northmore
12. L. Burrell 12. A. Esterhuizen
11. B. Stevenson 11. T. Green
10. B. Connon 10. M. Smith
9. L. Schreuder 9. M. Landajo
- T. Davison 1. J. Marler
- G. McGuigan 2. E. Elia
- L. Mulipola 3. W. Louw
- G. Peterson 4. M. Symons
- M. Fuser 5. H. Tizard
- S. Robinson (c) 6. S. Lewies (c)
- P. van der Valt 7. J. Kenningham
- C. Chick 8. J. Chisholm
Newcastle Falcons on the front foot
The first thing to mention is how Newcastle Falcons were on the front foot in the first half. In the image below, we see how they looked to defend high up the field, putting pressure on the Harlequins defenders as much as possible.
Lock Greg Peterson, in the black circle, has got up to charge down the clearing kick here, with Harlequins resorting to this to get past Newcastle’s high pitch position, as indicated by the black line. When making clearances like this, the aim is to get runners through to meet it on the other side, but Harlequins can’t do that here, as there are no gaps they can get through. Therefore, Newcastle will reclaim possession easily in this situation. The fact that this all came from squeezing their opponents shows how Newcastle wanted to take the initiative against the visitors.
It wasn’t just in defence that Newcastle pushed forward though. Here, full-back Tom Penny, in the black circle, is looking to gain ground for his team, and Harlequins have left space open for him to get through. Penny is a tricky player at the best of times, with quick feet and an eye for defensive gaps. The red line indicates how Harlequins have not organised defensively here, with space open between hooker Elia Elia and winger Joe Marchant, giving Penny the opportunity that he is looking for. On this occasion, he gets tackled, but another gap later on leads to fly-half Brett Connon sending centre Luther Burrell through, so this is something that Harlequins will need to look at. Their defence has been very robust in recent games, but there were a few noticeable cracks in it at Kingston Park, which gave Newcastle the invitation they needed to attack and run into them throughout the game.
Luther Burrell and Matias Orlando
One of the main reasons why Newcastle Falcons posed such a threat was the role of their two centres, former England international Luther Burrell and Argentina international Matias Orlando. These two players were involved in everything good for the home side, showing their experience and ability to move the team into good areas of the pitch.
Newcastle used some interesting tactics in this game, with this image showing how they dealt with lineouts. Instead of throwing the ball to a jumping teammate, hooker George McGuigan threw the ball a little longer, aiming to get it past the two lines of players. From there, the home side could bring their quicker backs into the game as early as possible and in space, allowing them to charge at the defence and force a gap in it. The black circles show how Connon, Burrell and Orlando are all in positions to do just this, and Burrell’s momentum here means Newcastle push Harlequins back a long way, almost scoring a try through Italian lock Marco Fuser, before prop Logovi’i Mulipola eventually gets the ball down a few phases later. Therefore, this was one way that Newcastle’s centres helped their team pose a constant threat.
This image shows how Orlando and Burrell made runs through any gaps they could find in the Harlequins defence. The former, in the black circle here, has received the ball from flanker Philip van der Valt, but is in the process of being tackled here. Before going to ground, he offloads to Burrell, in the yellow circle, who is making the supporting run here, showing again how well they linked up and allowed Newcastle to play at speed. It says a lot that, whenever one of them attacked, the other was never far behind, and both have proven to be really important parts of the team since joining last summer.
Here, Newcastle have again attacked after winning the ball, following a Harlequins error. Burrell has received the ball from prop Trevor Davison, who is just getting to his feet, before running forward and making plenty of metres for his team. Again, this shows how the two Newcastle centres went wherever the ball was, usually operating as the first passing options and supporting the attack any way they could.
This particular move doesn’t lead to anything, as winger Ben Stevenson, who is on the outside of Burrell, is eventually tackled by Harlequins wide player Tyrone Green, and the away side win the penalty. However, it again shows how the two centres’ performances were a big reason for their eventual victory, and Harlequins struggled to deal with them throughout.
Harlequins’ first half
Harlequins had two different halves of rugby, struggling to get into the first half, before making a few changes in the second to get back into the game.
Their overall first-half performance looked disjointed, and they made quite a few errors in key positions. Here, we see how they have a chance to score, but number 8 James Chisholm, who had a good game overall, couldn’t position the pass where Marchant could reach it, and the ball went into touch instead. This chance came about after South African centre Andre Esterhuizen, arguably Harlequins’ best player at the moment, had found a gap in Newcastle Falcons’ defence, before offloading to Chisholm. It was a difficult pass for the back row forward to make, but this was a situation Harlequins needed to take advantage of, especially with Newcastle playing as well as they were.
In defence, there were also cases of poor communication, such as this image. Newcastle scrum-half Louis Schreuder’s high kick has come down in the middle of the Harlequins defence, as the black arrow shows, but full-back Aaron Morris and Argentina scrum-half Martin Landajo both leave it for each other, allowing Stevenson to claim it instead. A couple of phases later, number 8 Callum Chick scores a try, showing how this one mistake gave the home side an easy opportunity to score. We have mentioned previously how their defence has been one of the strongest in the Premiership in recent weeks, but this performance had a few errors in it that they will want to deal with quickly before their next game.
It wasn’t all bad for them, though, as they did have their moments of quality too.
Newcastle are again defending high up the pitch here, which we have already looked at, but Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, in the red circle, is looking to take advantage of that to transfer the ball behind them, into the area marked by the yellow square. By finding this space, Harlequins were looking to get their runners behind, even though this was proving difficult, but also to test Newcastle’s backs, hoping to win a penalty from a fumbled catch. Full-back Penny here drops the ball from Smith’s kick, giving Harlequins exactly that, and so Smith’s decision won them metres that they had previously not been able to find.
Therefore, we see how they can change play where necessary, always looking to find alternative ways to break through opposing defences, which has been one of their key positives in recent games.
They also reacted well to conceding the try scored by Mulipola, going straight at Newcastle from the kick-off, and captain and flanker Stephan Lewies found a gap to run through on the far side wing, scoring too easily for Newcastle’s liking. This all came when the home side didn’t gather the ball cleanly, gifting Lewies and Harlequins the opportunity to get behind them. When they have open spaces, Harlequins always pose a threat, and this is the reason Newcastle looked to limit this as often as they did in this game.
Harlequins’ second half
However, in the second half, they made one key change which helped them play with more confidence and energy. The club have been looking to get 22-year-old South African utility back Tyrone Green into their team, hoping he can provide the spark they have been missing at times this season, and he put on a great display that demonstrated what he will bring to the team in future matches.
With his natural pace at their disposal, Harlequins could alter their attacking approach to the game. At the lineout, it is normal that the ball is thrown in, a jumper catches it, and then it is passed up the pitch, with the opposing defence forming a defensive line. Harlequins looked to play on this, banking on Newcastle Falcons assuming this normal pattern would occur here. However, substitute hooker Scott Baldwin has switched direction back towards the nearside wing here, allowing Green, in the red circle, to run through the Newcastle defence at pace before the home side had realised what was going on. By making his run in this area, Green faced little organisation, with his quick feet also helping him to get through without being tackled.
This was an example of clever and intelligent tactics from Harlequins, and showed how they had come out in the second half with a plan on how to take the game to Newcastle, looking to play with more confidence.
Green, in the yellow circle, continued to be the away side’s biggest weapon after half-time, and showed why Harlequins have been so keen to get him on the field. Here, they have again found a gap, this time through substitute lock Glen Young, and the black line shows the space Newcastle have given them to play in. Given how Newcastle found these spaces in the first half, this showed how they fell into the same traps, but this was because of the speed Harlequins were playing with when moving forward. Young here makes the pass to Green, as the red arrow shows, before the winger then evades two tackle attempts and scores his second try of the game. There is no doubt that Harlequins looked a different side once Green was more involved, and he added the threat that they had been lacking beforehand.
In conclusion, we can see how this was an exciting game for the neutral, but the fans of both clubs would have plenty to be happy and sad about. Newcastle Falcons will be pleased with the way they put the pressure on Harlequins in the first half, and how well their new centres have settled into the team this season. Harlequins, meanwhile, will be happy with how well their own summer signing Tyrone Green played, and excited about what he can bring to the team between now and the end of the season. Overall, Newcastle will be slightly relieved to have got away with the win, as they were arguably second-best after half-time, whereas Harlequins will know their first half mistakes cost them a chance of claiming the victory, so will need to address them before their next match.