The return of star fly-half Marcus Smith sparked an eight-try win over Bristol Bears under the Friday night lights this week, with Harlequins continuing an unbeaten run in 2021 at their home ground.
Quins looked set to find their unbeaten run this calendar year halted by the travelling Bristol Bears, with the away side striking three unanswered blows through tries for lock Joe Joyce, wing Henry Purdy and fullback Charles Piutau within the first 25 minutes.
21 points down, the Club were dealt a further blow as starting fly-half Tommy Allan was forced from the field of play with a HIA. Returning to The Stoop pitch for the first time since May, capped by England and a British and Irish Lions tourist since his last appearance, reserve fly-half Marcus Smith was welcomed to the field in full voice by a packed-out Stoop.
Smith’s arrival seemed to inspire a reply to the Bristol attack, finding Springbok centre Andre Esterhuizen in the 28th minute with an inside pass that saw the midfielder break clean through the Bristol midfield before being brought down metre metres from the line. A handful of hopeful Quins attempted to batter down the door, but it would be wing Louis Lynagh who eventually dove between a hole in the fringes of Bristol’s defence to claim the score. Smith added the conversion to reduce the Bears’ lead to 14.
Bristol claimed the final word of the first-half, with fly-half Callum Sheedy adding a penalty to his three conversions earlier in the day, taking the score to 7-24 as both sides headed into the changing rooms, leaving an air of apprehension at the break.
However, Quins were not in the mood to be turned over on their own turf. Coming out firing in the second half, supporters were treated to a Quins special as the men in the Famous Quarters chipped away at Bristol’s lead. Smith was the man to spark the score, finding a half gap on the Bristol defence before feeding Lynagh. The 20-year-old wing ate up ten metres of grass before firing out a perfect pass wide to Esterhuizen on the left touchline. Esterhuizen’s towering frame drew in defenders before returning the pass inside to Lynagh who ran in all the way under the sticks for the score. Smith converted to bring his side to within ten points at 14-24 with half an hour to play.
The Stoop were back on their feet soon after as their side won a penalty just inside the Bristol half, kicking to the touchline for a driving maul five metres from the Bears’ line. Bristol were able to repel Harlequins’ forwards in tight exchanges down the left flank, but eventually broke after fullback Tyrone Green changed the direction of play, pushing possession to the right side of the field to allow Dombrandt to send a spectacular out the back of the hand offload to Esterhuizen for Quins’ third. Smith’s third conversion sailed just wide, leaving Bristol with a five-point lead.
There was no stopping a Harlequins side with the wind in their sails and the talismanic presence of Smith at ten. After Bristol were penalised five metres from their line, Quins opted to take the scrum. Initially, Dombrandt was held up by the Bristol defence, but a sharp offload from Care found replacement back Luke Northmore, who wrestled his way over the line to claim Quins’ bonus point despite the attention of two defenders. Smith made no mistake from the boot this time, kicking Quins into a 26-24 lead.
Quins struck immediately after, with veteran prop Will Collier, replacing Simon Kerrod, the unlikely star of a 20-metre run in to score Quins’ fifth within a minute of their fourth. Smith’s conversion was true once again, extending the lead to nine points with 22 minutes left to play. A first Premiership try for the Quins centurion.
The sixth soon followed, with Green the man to dot down this time after a Cadan Murley break down the left touchline before the final inside pass to the Quins’ fullback. A missed conversion from Smith, but Quins’ lead was extended to 14 with a 38-24 lead.
With eight minutes to play, there was no stopping a Harlequins side in full spirit backed by a sold-out Stoop full in voice. A chip over the head of the Bristol defence saw man of the moment Smith recollect his own kick to dot down for his own try for the night, that he soon converted.
Quins tied off a stellar Friday night with an incredible score for Dombrandt, making up for his early disallowed score earlier in the match. The day’s skipper signed off the evening in style, picking Bristol’s pocket with an interception try that would see Quins pass the half-century mark after Smith added the conversion for the final points of the day.
With three minutes left to play, referee Wayne Barnes eventually blew his final whistle of the day after Quins won a penalty on the halfway line. While tempted to go for a ninth score, Smith tapped the kick and sent the ball far into the stands to bring to an end an incredible return to Friday night lights at The Stoop.