NEC Harlequins were denied their first win of the season as Castres Olympique held-on for a share of the points in a 23-all draw at the Stoop. It's a result that leaves Quins with much work to do if they are to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Heineken Cup. Dafydd James scored both of the home sides two tries while Jeremy Staunton kicked 13 points, but crucially missed two penalty attempts in the closing ten minutes that could have won Quins the match.
It was the home side who opened the scoring with six minutes on the clock. Tom Williams made a break down the left flank, before Simon Keogh and Andre Vos carried the move into the Castres twenty-two. James was in support to take the scoring pass and dive over by the posts. Staunton converted though centre Richard Dourthe put Castres opening points on the board three minutes later with the first of six penalties.
Good work from Williams and Tani Fuga led to Castres being caught offside and Staunton restored Quins seven point advantage from the resulting penalty. Two minutes into the second quarter and Quins were awarded another penalty after the pack had driven play from the Castres ten-metre line deep into their twenty-two. Staunton added the three points to Quins tally that put them into a ten-point lead (13-3).
Dourthe converted his second penalty eight minutes before the break, and Quins then lost captain Andre Vos to a back injury and was replaced by Luke Sherriff. Winger Bradley Fleming and lock forward Rodrigo Capo Ortega combined to take play into Quins twenty-two, where it was the home sides turn to be penalised for being offside. Dourthe's third successful kick of the half cut Quins lead to just four points at the halfway stage (13-9).
Dourthe outscored Staunton two penalties to one in the opening eight minutes after the restart to move the score onto 16-15 in Quins favour, before James put further daylight between the two sides with his second try. Quins stole possession from a Castres lineout on the French sides twenty-two before Will Greenwood made a break in the midfield and his inside pass to his centre partner allowed James to touchdown under the posts unopposed. Staunton made no mistake with the simple conversion to give Quins an eight point lead (23-15).
However, Castres hit back straight from the restart with Fleming starting off a move that he finished in the right hand corner, after Dourthe made the telling break through the midfield into the Quins twenty-two. The Castres centre missed the conversion from the touchline but then tied the scores at 23-apiece just before the final quarter began with his final penalty of the match.
Quins looked the more dangerous side in the closing 20 minutes but couldn't make any further impression on the scoreboard. The pack were held-up on the line following a catch and drive from a lineout, while Staunton missed his two kicks at goal after 70 and 73 minutes respectively, as Castres played out the final ten minutes with 14 men after number eight Paul Volley was sent to the sin bin.
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.