Harlequins storm into home 'A' league final after Gloucester United victory
10 December 2012 23:21pm
By Callum Sheppard
Harlequins 'A' produced a magnificent performance in the semi-final of the Aviva 'A' league to secure a place in next Monday night's final, at home to Saracens Storm.
After losing out last year to a strong Exeter Braves side, Harlequins will want to go one step further at the Stoop this year as the first of the season's silverware is up for grabs.
With a 22-22 stalemate at the Stoop back in September and following Storm's 23-33 victory over Northampton Wanderers in the other semi-final, it's all to play for next week when the sides meet again.
On a cold Monday night, with the temperatures just above freezing, Harlequins' electric rugby kept the fans warm and constantly on their feet.
The hosts built a healthy lead early in the first half, and when Gloucester were reduced to 13 men, following the sin binning of second row partners, Peter Buxton and Dale Critchley, Harlequins quickly turned their 10-0 lead on 20 minutes, to a 27-0 lead at the break.
In the second half Harlequins were able to add a further 13 points to round off their tally at 40, while three spirited and opportunistic second half tries from the visitors brought their total tally to 19.
It took Harlequins just three minutes to make their first impact on the score board. From a lineout in the Gloucester 22, Jack Clifford looped around and collected the clean lineout ball. Following a half break from Rory Clegg and a brilliantly timed offload from Dave Ward, scrum-half Jordan Burns crossed under the posts.
Ben Botica added the conversion and when he added his first penalty, Harlequins had ten points in as many minutes.
The visitors began to build some momentum in the second quarter of the half, but strong defence from Harry Sloan, Seb Stegmann and Ollie Lindsay-Hague, shut the visitors out.
When Critchley was sin-binned for repeated offences at the breakdown on 20 minutes, United looked to have the initial upper hand. But when Darryl Marfo stole a lineout inside the Harlequins 22, the hosts showed their deadly ability to transform momentum.
The ball shipped between Sloan and Botica and when Lindsay-Hague's grubber kick forced Tim Taylor to carry the ball into touch, this gifted the hosts an attacking lineout inside United's 22.
Despite the initial attack breaking down due to a knock-on, the Harlequins front row won a penalty in the scrum and chose to scrummage again. Breaking from the bass, Clifford was held up short and when Buxton recklessly came in at the side, referee David Rose didn't hesitate in showing United's captain yellow and awarded Harlequins a penalty try.
The lineout steals became a regular occurrence. Botica's break in the midfield preceded a fantastic switch between Burns and Sloan which allowed the centre to dive in next to the posts just before the visitors clawed one man back from the bin.
When United returned to their full capacity, they made some strong momentum in the Harlequins half. Attacking in the shadows of the posts, prop Yann Thomas was denied a try in the 40th minute, knocking the ball on in the act of scoring, which gave Quins 27-0 half time lead.
It was Gloucester that started the second half strongly. Full-back Steph Reynolds made a promising break into the 22, but wasn't able to send a final pass to the on rushing George Boulton in what would have been a try scoring move.
When Koree Britton knocked-on another huge scrum from the Harlequins pack earned a penalty and the ability to relive the pressure.
Harlequins again stole the resulting lineout and immediately worked into the United 22 through more seamless offloading between the forwards and backs. United infringed and Botica added the first points of the second half.
While Clifford was in the sin bin for playing the ball in an offside position just before the hour mark, United got their first points on the board.
Standing in as number 8, Joe Trayfoot picked from the bass of a five metre scrum. The ball wasn't secured at the breakdown and when it flew out the side of the ruck and over the line, United's Gareth Evans was on hand to pounce on it.
The conversion was missed and when Harlequins won a penalty at the restart, Botica added three points to his tally.
When James Chisholm was brought on, the young back row made an immediate impact by breaking down the right wing. With a similar running style and offload to his brother Ross, the EPDG member provided a superb pass to Seb Stegmann who's line of running opened up the United defence.
Storming up field, the winger offloaded to Ward who was brought down just short of the line, Lindsay-Hague's support was rewarded and after collecting the offload, he scored with 13 minutes remaining.
The visitors were able to score two tries in the final ten minutes through Shane Monahan and Tom Heard, but it was too little too late as Harlequins secured their place in the final.