Harlequins travelled to the home of Castres in the South of France for 2021/22 season's first round of Heineken Champions Cup action. With the home side riding high following a big win against French giants Racing 92 in the Top14 the previous weekend, Quins faced a side with momentum at the backs.
Underlining the challenge of the day, Castres were the first side to score at the Stade Pierre Fabres in the 18th minute.
Chasing back for a ball kicked in behind the Quins defence, wing Louis Lynagh desperately cleared the ball away from danger. However, the young outside back’s kick was collected by dangerous wing Filipo Makosi. The Fijian caused havoc with the Quins defence, tearing down the left touchline before eventually sending the pass inside for openside flanker Josaia Raisuqe to touch down for the try. There was no conversion as fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta hit the uprights, but Castres held an early 5-0 lead.
Waiting for 14 minutes for their first points, patience eventually paid off for Quins. A big maul deep in opposition territory saw Harlequins Academy lock Hugh Tizard somehow manage to get his arms free from a tangle of French forwards to offload to Quins scrum-half Danny Care, who hurriedly slapped the ball through the air and into the hands of Lynagh who raced into the corner to strike. Smith converted the score with a tough touchline kick to give Quins the lead for the first time of the day.
Sadly for the travelling Londoners, the lead did not last long. Castres finished the half with an 11-7 lead after Urdapilleta landed back-to-back penalties. Smith attempted to take his side to within a point at the stroke of half-time with a kick of his own, but the long-range attempt sailed to the right of the posts.
Smith made no mistake with his second penalty attempt seven minutes into the second-half, with the standoff taking Quins within one point after Castre were pulled up for a high tackle on Lynagh in mid-field.
With momentum now at their backs Quins struck five minutes later. Hooker Jack Walker peeled off a maul in opposition territory to attack the Castres line, with number eight Alex Dombrandt running a smart line in the midfield off the ensuing ruck to break clean through the defence and touch down almost untouched under the posts. Smith nailed the conversion to take Quins into an 11-17 lead.
Smith added a third penalty to his personal tally as the clock continued to wind down, with Impact Player Jack Kenningham coming up with an all-important turnover inside the Castres half to allow Smith to put his side nine points ahead.
Quins were guilty of following up a positive with an error soon after, missing Castres’ kick-off and allowing the side to work through the phases before wing Martin Laveau snuck around the ruck to score untouched. Urdapilleta added the conversion to take his side a mere two points away from Harlequins for a nail-biting finish in the South of France.
With Castres advancing on Quins’ line and threatening to pull off a dramatic win in front of their fans, a determined Quins defence forced the error as Castres conceded a penalty in their haste at a busy breakdown.
Quins took possession and sent it into the stands once the clock was in the red. A huge win for Harlequins, and a first home European defeat for Castres since 2015.
Final score: Castres 18 – 20 Harlequins
Next match: Harlequins vs Cardiff Rugby. Saturday, December 18. 13:00 kick-off.