An interception try from French international centre Jean Marc Aue 12 minutes from time and against the run of play, condemned NEC Harlequins to their first defeat of the season in what was far more than a meaningless pre-season friendly. Playing at their Stade de Mediterrannee for the first time this season, Beziers were keen to impress their fans that were being given the opportunity to witness most of their new signings.
Quins once again had a large squad for the game, but an ankle injury to Nick Duncombe sustained during the week, Viliame Satala still celebrating his country's Commonwealth Games success and skipper Jason Leonard laid low with a 'tummy bug' meant that the coaching team of Mark Evans and Paul Turner had to manage their diminishing resources more than they had intended.
After an early scare when a 'giveaway' resulted in a swift counter attack that had the visitors defence at full stretch, Paul Burke kicked Quins into the lead after they were awarded a penalty, with Beziers guilty of holding in a lineout.
Minutes later and Ben Gollings needed to be at his best to stop Philippe Escalle from getting on the end of a clever chip from fly half Jean Frederic Dubois, whose high hanging kicks tested the Quins rearguard at regular intervals. Despite Gollings managing a more than useful break that took him 45 metres up-field before being crudely tackled into touch, the visitors struggled to make better use of possession from various set-pieces and whilst the lineout was functioning okay, the forwards were finding it tough in the scrums.
However, sudden successive lineouts lost gave the home side a chance to launch a more meaningful series of attacks that eventually saw Argentinean fly half Gonzalo Quesada, playing at full back, to level the scores with a penalty midway through the half. Quins response was immediate; a five-man move took the visitors deep into the Beziers half where Burke, Will Greenwood and Nathan Williams almost created an opening for Matt Moore, only for the final pass to be deemed forward.
Unperturbed, Quins made their next possession count with Gollings, Burke and Greenwood paving the way for Williams to waltz home for his second try in successive matches. Burke was unable to add the extras with the conversion, and with Quesada being given two quick penalty opportunities through Quins lose of discipline, the home side went 9-8 ahead with just over 30 minutes played.
Greenwood's chase of his own chip saw him down Quesada behind his own tryline, forcing Captain Pierre Mignoni to run the ball out of bounds close to his own line.
From the lineout, Quins drove purposefully ahead committing defenders to the drive, so when the ball was played back Burke was able to hoist a telling lob that found Greenwood in acres of space behind the posts for a very cleverly worked try.
Burke's conversion put the visitors 15-9 ahead and they looked good value for their lead going into the break, until seconds before the interval when a scrum on the Beziers twenty-two saw Mignoni break down the blindside. Evading Scott Bemand's desperate lunge, the French international scrum half set-off into the Quins half, before drawing Williams and releasing Escalle for a jog to the line from 30 metres out. Quesada had no problems with the conversion, to give the home side a narrow 16-15 advantage at the break.
Quesada continued to display his kicking skills after the re-start with an early penalty for the home side to extend their lead to four points. The Argentinean ace was soon in action again, making it six of the best with the conversion of a try from replacement Georgian prop Goderzi Shvelidze, following a rolling maul from a lineout close to the visitors line.
Despite making a series of changes, Quins quickly reorganised and once again started to pose questions to the Beziers defence. A flicked pass from Gollings almost put Moore away down the right hand side, and a series of penalties saw Quins go close to scoring a try that would have hauled them back into the game.
Thibault Privat and Greenwood then had a minor disagreement as tempers began to rise in the evening heat, as Quins continued to press for a score that would lead to a grandstand finish. David Slemen was adjudged not to have grounded the ball over the try line by French international referee Didier Mene, before Beziers grabbed the clinching try. A Kai Horstmann pass was snapped up by Aue, who ran in from 75 metres. Quesada converted to give the home side a flattering 33-15 scoreline, but Quins pulled a try back seven minutes from the end when referee Mene awarded the visitors a penalty try, as Beziers prevented the away side taking a penalty close to the line.
Gollings converted to leave Quins eleven points adrift at the end. However, this was a more than useful workout that will give the coaching team plenty to work on, but with plenty of positives to come away with.
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.