Harlequins winning a see-sawing game with Louis Lynagh scoring twice, Danny Care on song and the fly-half starring – it all sounded familiar for the champions.
Except this was a little more underwhelming compared to Quins’ title triumph last season, and the No 10 was Italian not English.
Tommy Allan made sure it was no Marcus Smith, no problem, securing man-of-the-match by setting up two of four tries.
Louis Lynagh of Harlequins scores his teams first try during the Premiership Rugby match
Lynagh, son of Wallabies legend Michael, took two and after new Harlequins coach Tabai Matson backed the winger, who qualifies for England, Australia and Italy, for higher honours.
‘I don’t want to put on any pressure but clearly which country he chooses will be the parent he loves the most!’ the boss joked.
‘If you see his age and the games he’s stepped up in, that’s always a pretty good sign. Going to the next level is often about dealing with pressure and he’s done that last season. He hasn’t played a full Premiership yet so we’ll see the glitches come out as the competition gets tougher.’
While conceding three tries, Matson was pleased with his Quins coaching debut.
‘There’s no easy starts so we’ll take that,’ he added.
‘We missed opportunities, they took some easy opportunities, but it gives me a job, doesn’t it, to fix and solve stuff.’
The great Harlequins conundrum was whether they could bottle lightning again, capturing the electricity of last season.
Lynagh scored either side of the break as Harlequins began their defence with a win
With Matson wanted to double-down on their attacking style that saw them rip to the title in June.
Here they did score twice early, but were let down by the fundamentals they need to flourish fully – set-piece, catching restarts and malfunctioning lineouts.
None of that would have impressed England forward coaching duo Matt Proudfoot and Richard Cockerill sitting in the stands, Quins looking like they needed Joe Marler starting and Wilco Louw back from South African duty.
Nevertheless their tries were good. Danny Care provided the first, his wide pass to Lynagh fortunately slipping right through home full-back Tom Penny’s hands to find the winger in space.
Care had earlier intercepted and looked to have set up a try, but incredibly lock Dino Lamb threw the final pass to Cadan Murley forward under little pressure.
Without Smith, resting after his late Lions call-up, Allan had to conjure from No 10 – and did. The Italian international jinked through a half-gap and popped to Joe Marchant who finished Quins’ second.
Comfortably ahead after Allan hit both kicks, Harlequins let Newcastle back in – typically – although largely thanks to the jaw-dropping speed of Adam Radwan.
First the English wing blitzed Murley and slid in in front of Lynagh, then stepped four men after catching a box-kick, whizzing away before feeding impressive, rapid debutant Iwan Stephens for run-in.
Logivi’i Mulipola and Carl Fearns might have had other scores for the Falcons, but both were correctly ruled out.
After the resumption Allan was looking classier by the minute. Again the Italian wrong-footed the Falcons on the gainline and found Lynagh out wide for the winger’s second, but missed the conversion.
Harlequins would not be Harlequins if they did things easily, though, so contrived to leave their back door open again. Care was intercepted by Sean Robinson who fed Louis Schreuder to score, Quins’ lead only holding as Brett Connor missed the conversion.
Care made up for his error, sniping close to the line for the bonus-point try, which Allan converted.
That hardly made the end comfortable for the Londoners – whose fans and coaches’ fingernails had only just grown back after last year’s gnawing– as Newcastle kept searching for their fourth.
But they ran out of time, Will Haydon-Wood kicking a penalty at the end to take a losing bonus-point against the champions.
Newcastle coach Dean Richards, while proud his wonder-wings, bemoaned refereeing calls.
‘Radwan and Stephens did exceptionally well,’ he said.
‘As much as this is about bringing young players through we still want to win matches.
‘We didn’t get the consistency from the referee we wanted.’