Belfast Harlequins head coach Adam Larkin admitted they had luck on their side when they garnered a late 20-19 win over Malone in Saturday’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B derby at Gibson Park.
Irish-qualified New Zealander Sean Reidy struck for two tries and centre Eamon Lane landed 10 points with the boot as Belfast Harlequins opened their win account for the new league season.
‘Quins were 14-7 down early in the second half and also trailed 19-13 following full-back Stuart Campbell’s third try of the afternoon for Malone.
However, in a tense finish, the sin-binning of Malone flanker Conor Joyce allowed ‘Quins to hammer home their advantage up front with a second pushover try from new number 8 Reidy.
Lane’s coolly-struck conversion took the visitors ahead and with his place-kicking rival Josh Pentland pushing a late penalty wide for Malone, Harlequins held on for a much-needed result.
It was a welcome change in fortunes for the men from Deramore Park as on the opening day of the campaign, a late sucker punch try had denied them victory at UL Bohemians.
Reflecting on the Belfast derby, ‘Quins head coach Adam Larkin said: “We were lucky. We were in the same position two weeks ago (in Limerick) when the opposite happened to us, so it was a case of swings and roundabouts.
“In all honesty, there is a lot to work on still. I thought we started well and dominated early, and then we let Malone get back into the game and they took their opportunities very well and slipped off tackles out wide.
“We are obviously delighted to come out on the right side of the ledger but at the end of the day there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Asked what his charges could improve on, the former Ulster out-half and centre added: “It was difficult to get messages on to the boys but they needed be more direct with the ball and get into the game. We were getting very lateral early on and didn’t really string phases together.
“Most importantly we needed a bit of composure, and thankfully we showed this when we got into their 22 to score the second try.
“That’s what it is all about, it is coping with the pressure and executing those things well. We have Garryowen at home next so it doesn’t get any easier.”
Meanwhile, Malone boss Jacques Benade was less than impressed with the outcome of Saturday’s game. Poor discipline and missed scoring opportunities cost his side vital league points.
“I’m very disappointed. We had all the opportunities, we created great opportunities, we won the penalties, missed those kicks, there were just far too many individual errors,” he said, with reference to some penalties that the usually reliable Pentland missed.
“We had them under pressure in the scrum in the first 10 to 15 minutes, then we had a yellow card (for Conor Joyce) which just brought ‘Quinn right back into the game.
“Then another yellow card at the end of the game against a team like Harlequins who are really strong in the maul. Maybe we need to speak to the referee (Brian MacNeice) about the new maul law, because it seems to be completely different from the way we got the understanding of it from Ulster. It is certainly very different from the way they have it in Dublin and Munster.”
Malone won their league opener at home to Buccaneers and have picked up two losing bonus points since then, and currently rank as Division 1B’s top scorers (72 points).
They are sixth in the table – two places above Harlequins – and visit second-from-bottom Dublin University next Saturday when Benade will demand improvements across the board.
He added: “We have some very talented young players, this is their first season but I am a bit disappointed with the players who started with us last year – they seem to be struggling a bit.
“We have quite a few changes this year – we have brought these good young quality players in, but now it is the simple things that we need to do. Kick the corners, kick the points, hit the lineouts, simple things that need to be executed right. Missing that penalty just before half-time was crucial, we should have gone in at the break in front.
“At one stage you look at it, three tries scored, are we going to take this game with maybe a bonus point, because it always looked like we could. Then we did not execute, we were very sideways in our back-line taking all our space from out outside backs.
“I thought (hat-trick scorer) Rory Campbell (pictured above) did really well, especially when he straightened it up really well.
“When we attacked their back-line, and not just run sideways across the park, we looked dangerous and we scored two tries through that. At half-time I told them that all ‘Quins do is run soft and go to the touchlines, so let’s run a bit harder.
“It is very disappointing. We did our homework, we decide before the game how we are going to defend our mauls, what we are going to do in a certain areas of the pitch. Then when we get our first lineout that we have to defend, we do something completely different.
“There are players that have to accept their role – they have to do what we ask them to do. There are too many individuals that want to play the way they want to play, and not the way the team needs them to play. It’s just not good enough.”