Malone full-back Rory Campbell’s hat-trick of tries was not enough in a hard-fought local derby as Belfast Harlequins came away from Gibson Park with a nail-biting 20-19 victory.
When the dust settles on this one Malone will feel this was a game they had complete control of and should have won, while Adam Larkin's 'Quins will be pleased with their character and determination to fight back and take the four points.
It was a perfect afternoon in east Belfast as the big two city clubs met for this much-anticipated derby in Ulster Bank League Division 1B and these rivals did not disappoint.
The game got off to a lively start with both teams showing a willingness to run the ball, and Belfast Harlequins hit the front when number 8 Sean Reidy was driven over for a converted try from a close-in lineout.
Malone's flame-haired flanker Conor Joyce (pictured below) was sin-binned for a late 10th minute tackle and their goal-kicking centre Josh Pentland uncharacteristically missed a couple of penalty attempts.
However, in the 22nd minute, 'Quins early lead was erased when John Creighton switched play to the right where Rory Campbell came into the line at pace and managed to squeeze over at the corner flag.
Referee Brian MacNeice consulted with his touch judge before awarding the try. Pentland converted but missed a central penalty late in the half as the sides went in level at the break (7-7).
The Cregagh Red Sox nudged ahead in the 51st minute as skillful full-back Campbell sliced through the Harlequins defence to sprint in from halfway and dive under the posts for his second seven-pointer of the day.
Some of that damage was repaired for 'Quins by two Eamon Lane penalties, which punished Malone winger Jay Malcolm for failing to release after a tackle and the hosts were also caught offside soon after.
That made it 14-13 until good work by Alan O'Connor and scrum half Creighton set that man Campbell free for his hat-trick score.
The try scorer missed the conversion and determined 'Quins produced the stronger finish. Joyce earned a second yellow card for coming in at the side of a maul, leaving Malone under intense pressure.
The visitors kicked for the corner again and from the lineout, Reidy managed to crash over to complete his brace. Lane's crucial conversion made it 20-19 and with Pentland pushing a late penalty to the right and wide, 'Quins were back to winning ways.
Referee: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)