Harlequins hold off Worcester as Sara Cox becomes first woman to referee Premiership match

© PA Sara Cox’s rise to this level has seemed inevitable and she managed the game well – PA

Harlequins 35 Worcester Warriors 29

The concept of a title ‘defence’ always felt like a jarring way to describe this season for a team as attack-minded as Harlequins, and the Premiership champions reinforced as much as they held off Worcester Warriors in an entertaining tussle featuring 64 points.

Eddie Jones, as well as a cohort of England coaches in Matthew Proudfoot, Richard Cockerill and Martin Gleeson, were in attendance to watch this breezy contest in mild conditions at the Twickenham Stoop.

Eight members of the 45-man England training squad named last week were on display for them to monitor. Another, Marcus Smith, paraded the Premiership trophy prior to the start before running on water for his teammates.

Four of them – Louis Lynagh, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant as well as Worcester centre Ollie Lawrence – scored tries. Perhaps most significant, though, was the display of Joe Marler. Once more, he reminded us that his scrummaging belongs in Test matches.

“At times, Joe Marler was the best player in the Premiership last season,” said Harlequins senior coach Tabai Matson afterwards. “We’re really happy to have him leading our scrum.”

Sara Cox became the first woman to referee a Premiership match and the biggest compliment one could pay her was that this historic performance was as unfussy as her progression through the ranks.

© Provided by The Telegraph Louis Lynagh scored Quins’ first try – Getty Images

Cox’s rise to this level has seemed inevitable and she managed this game well, although that would have been of scant consolation to Worcester – even if they did benefit from her whistle initially.

Around 70 seconds in, Danny Care was caught at the base of a ruck and swarmed by opponents. Cox awarded a penalty to the visitors, which Owen Williams converted.

Harlequins then infringed twice in quick succession, providing Williams with another opportunity. This time, the fly-half’s long-range attempt kissed the outside of the right post and stayed out. Remarkably, Worcester would not win another penalty until four minutes from the end.

It took until the 15th minute for Harlequins to find any sort of fluency, but they capitalised on a first visit to Worcester’s 22. Care tapped a close-range penalty earned by their maul and fed André Esterhuizen, whose long pass looped to Lynagh.

The 20-year-old is deceptively powerful, and shrugged off Perry Humphreys before burrowing past two more to score. Tommy Allan converted from close to the touchline and Harlequins led 7-3.

“At the end of this camp it will be really interesting to see if Eddie thinks he’s an international winger,” Matson added of Lynagh.

 “But one thing you want from wingers is an ability to finish and he’s been prolific, hasn’t he? There are lots of things to work on, and international rugby is another level again, but every week he puts up his hand.

 “Every time he gets an opportunity, he takes it. That gives us a glimpse of what he’s capable of in the future.”

Esterhuizen, more valuable for his current exile from South Africa’s plans, signed a new contract this week. Whatever he is being paid, the coup looks like good business. His fearsome carrying scattered would-be Worcester tacklers on numerous occasions.

One such charge punctuated an attack from which Harlequins were awarded a penalty just six metres out. With Marler enjoying set-piece ascendancy, they opted for a scrum.

Worcester subsided amid a brawny shove and Dombrandt controlled with his right foot before completing the simplest finish. From there, 14-3 up, Harlequins began to expand their repertoire.  Marchant caught the restart and sent Dombrandt through a hole, receiving a return pass and lifting an offload that released runaway hooker Jack Walker. Esterhuizen then almost latched on to Allan’s delicate chip.

Cox sent Worcester wing Noah Heward to the sin bin for his part in a clumsy collision with on the airborne Tyrone Green, which gave Harlequins more space to enjoy themselves. Allan, Lynagh, Marchant and Green combined on the left before Dombrandt and Esterzhuizen made inroads on the right.

Worcester flanker Sam Lewis gave away a penalty for handling the ball on the floor and, after Harlequins went to the corner, Care’s pass fizzed behind Marchant to Green, who scooped up and fed Cadan Murley. Allan’s extras laid on a 21-3 half-time cushion.

© Provided by The Telegraph Alex Dombrandt catches a lineout during Quins’ clash with Worcester – PA

Worcester responded swiftly, though. Williams is proving to be a connoisseur of 50:22 kicks and struck his second in as many weeks to earn promising field position three minutes into the second period.

Lawrence, fairly quiet in the first half, burst into life with a slicing angle off the shoulder of Francois Venter that Lynagh could not halt. Williams converted but his side were under pressure soon afterwards following Marchant’s tip-pass to Murley.

Again, the scrum was the source of Worcester’s woe and, again, Care tapped a quick penalty to set up the try with replacement Luke Northmore sending Marchant to the line for a bonus point.

Worcester’s squad is still gelling after a summer shopping spree and they have yet to welcome back a pair of British and Irish Lions in Duhan van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland.

Other new boys are settling quickly and the visitors hauled themselves to within a score after tries from Willi Heinz, following Williams’ chip, and his replacement at scrum-half Will Chudley. Jamie Shillcock’s gliding break foreshadowed the second of these tries.

The signs are that Worcester will be more than competitive this season. They fell short of an upset here as Harlequins jitters elapsed with Dino Lamb’s close-range try with six minutes left, but snatched two bonus points at the death when Marc Thomas dotted down. 

Scoring (Harlequins); 0-3 Williams penalty, 5-3 Lynagh try, 7-3 Allan conversion, 12-3 Dombrandt try, 14-3 Allan conversion, 19-3 Murley try, 21-3 Allan conversion, 21-8 Lawrence try, 21-10 Williams try, 26-10 Marchant try, 28-10 Allan conversion, 28-15 Heinz try, 28-17 Williams conversion, 28-22 Chudley try, 28-24 Williams conversion, 33-24 Lamb try, 35-24 Allan conversion, 35-29 Thomas try,

Harlequins: T Green;L Lynagh, J Marchant, A Esterhuizen (H Jones, 68), C Murley (L Northmore, 50); T Allan, D Care (S Steele, 64); J Marler (F Baxter, 68), J Walker (S Riley, 68), S Kerrod (W Collier, 55), M Symonds, D Lamb (H Tizard, 75), T Lawday, J Kenningham (J Chisholm, 50), A Dombrandt

Worcester Warriors: J Shillcock; N Heward, O Lawrence, F Venter, P Humphreys (M Nanai, 55); O Williams (B Searle, 75), W Heinz (W Chudley, 60); E Waller (M Thomas, 57), S Baldwin (N Annett, 57), C Judge, K Hatherell (M Garvey 70), J Clegg, T Hill, S Lewis, M Kvesic

Not used: G Kitchener

Referee: S Cox (RFU)

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