Newcastle Falcons 21, Harlequins 18

IF England's search for a Six Nations fly half is to focus on Kingston Park they will have to wait a while longer before seeing Jonny Wilkinson, but Toby Flood continued to impress on Saturday.

Given the Falcons' need of victory, plus a four-try bonus point, to have any chance of reaching the EDF Energy Cup semi-finals, Flood had the licence to be adventurous.

Despite a couple of wrong options, he certainly couldn't be blamed for the failure to find the fourth try, although it didn't matter in the end as Sale's win against Llanelli took them comfortably through.

More worrying for Newcastle was that the inclusion of their four new signings created more problems than it solved, particularly at the line-out.

Although Harlequins had former All Black Andrew Mehrtens back at fly half after injury, they fielded a side which bore no resemblance to the team which won a league match at Kingston Park three weeks earlier.

The Falcons should have beaten them much more easily and perhaps they would have done under normal circumstances as they booted four kickable penalties to the corner in search of tries.

But the results of this ploy were a comedy of errors as they never remotely threatened to get over, largely because they couldn't secure the ball.

They sent on hooker Andy Long and lanky flanker Eni Gesinde at half-time in place of Matt Thompson and Cory Harris and it helped them to dominate the half, but only a converted try resulted.

Newcastle will be able to field only one of their new signings, as a wild card, over the next two weeks as they visit French club Montauban on Friday in the European Challenge Cup then entertain them nine days later.

Director of Rugby John Fletcher said he has yet to decide which, if any, he will select as a wild card, but it would surely have to be Saturday's captain, former All Black prop Joe McDonnell.

Utility back Loki Crichton was at full back, but things improved when he was replaced after 52 minutes, Anthony Elliott switching to No 15 with John Rudd on the wing. Lee Dickson went on at the same time and continued to press his claim to be considered first-choice scrum half.

Elliott played a big part in the try which the powerful Rudd finished off with casual ease, and with 15 minutes left the Falcons really should have added to their tally.

Fletcher admitted that, saying: "Getting the four tries was what we talked about all week and against the side Harlequins put out we should have got the bonus point.

"We had lots of opportunities, but we didn't take them. We needed a little bit more precision and composure, and some of our ball presentation was not great."

That remark may have applied to Flood, but at 21 he is still learning what he can get away with and any fly half who has the vision to float up a cross-kick for a winger in his own 22 is to be applauded.

That was one gamble which did come off as the perfect kick allowed Elliott to turn defence into attack in one of the first half highlights. Flood also converted all three of Newcastle's tries, including one from the right touchline.

Mathew Tait, also back from England duty, was similarly adventurous, sheer acceleration from near the posts taking him between the opposing centres on a thrilling 60-metre run, which led to a try for winger Tim Visser.

The other first half try resulted from Visser breaking down the middle before the ball was moved right from a ruck and Joe Shaw slipped it back inside for lock Jason Oakes to touch down.

Flood's conversion put Newcastle 14-10 up after they had trailed 10-0 following an opening seven minutes in which visiting back row men Tom Guest and Will Skinner proved far livelier than their hosts.

It was from a sloppy line-out tap in the second minute that the Falcons allow uing the attack into the 22, where Mehrtens landed a penalty.

Then another Skinner burst was followed by good handling for right winger Adam Thompstone to score the first of his two tries.

The second came just before half-time, when Crichton over-ran an awkwardly-bouncing ball, to restore Quins' lead at 15-14, which Mehrtens quickly stretched with a penalty.

Newcastle rang the changes and Gesinde brought one of the few roars from the 3,448 crowd with a 30-metre gallop which led to a penalty ten metres from the posts.

This time Newcastle opted for a scrum and after recycling the ball five times Gesinde almost got over in the corner. Another penalty was then kicked to touch, but again the Falcons couldn't secure the ball.

Rudd came off the wing to burst on to a short pass at inside centre and cruise over for the third try, but incessant attacking in the remaining 15 minutes brought no reward.

Newcastle: L Crichton (J Rudd 52), A Elliott, M Tait, J Shaw (T Dillon 58), T Visser, T Flood, J Grindal (L Dickson 52), J McDonnell (capt), M Thompson (A Long HT), M Ward (J Golding 52), M Sorensen, J Oakes (M McCarthy 75), B Wilson, C Harris (E Gesinde HT), R Winter.