Saturday, 14th October 2017 @ 20:15
In their return to the European Rugby Champions Cup, Harlequins had to settle for a losing bonus point as they fell 27-34 to Top 14 side La Rochelle.
The Londoners trailed for much of the match after conceding early but first half tries to Charlie Matthews and Joe Marchant, as well as a Marcus Smith penalty, saw the home side trail just 17-24 at the break.
La Rochelle extended their lead by a further ten points in the second spell before a spirited fightback by Quins saw them pick up a bonus point after Will Collier scored his first try of his club career.
Dominating territory in the late stages Quins couldn’t pick up a fourth try but a late Smith penalty took the score to 27-34, meaning they wouldn’t come away empty handed.
Earlier, Harlequins arrived at The Stoop to open their Champions Cup campaign, their first time in the top tier of Europe since the 2014/15 season.
In their first ever meeting against La Rochelle it was the French side that got off to the brighter start as hooker Hikairo Forbes barged over from the maul to score. His try was converted by Ryan Lamb to make it 0-7 after just three minutes.
The English fly-halves exchanged penalties before Charlie Matthews helped level the scores. The second row in support to crash over after a powerful Jamie Roberts break.
In a see-saw encounter the match went back and forth, and end to end before a stunning try from Geoffrey Doumayrou completed a breathless period of play. The inside centre dancing over for his first of two tries on the night and 10-17 lead.
On the half hour mark the lead was doubled when loosehead Dany Priso was on hand to complete a La Rochelle overlap and the home side were in trouble down 10-24.
They answered back almost immediately however as Mike Brown, in stunning form on his return from injury, sliced through the French defence to set up Joe Marchant who had the strength to get over and cut the gap.
With momentum on their side Harlequins hammered away looking to level the scores before the break, even turning down two kickable penalties, but they couldn’t cross the whitewash and headed into the break trailing 17-24 after an electric opening spell.
Five minutes into the second spell Doumayrou completed his brace following a Lamb dummy and break. Lamb converted, and added a penalty five minutes later as Quins faced a 17 point deficit.
For the remainder of the encounter Harlequins attacked the La Rochelle line but a resolute French defence would turn them around time and time again. However, just after the hour mark Will Collier scored his first try for the Club (in his 113th appearance) and it was game on.
Brown twice went close in the closing stages, as did a number of the forward pack led by Captain James Horwill, but they couldn’t get their fourth try of the evening.
Finally, with the clock winding down, Quins were awarded a penalty and they decided to take the points to close the gap to seven. Marcus Smith’s 79th minute kick securing a losing bonus point, but a disappointing start to the European season.
Harlequins now have eight days until their second match in the Champions Cup when they take on Wasps at the Ricoh Arena next Sunday 22nd October. An important fixture with both sides currently sitting at the bottom of the competitive Pool 1.
Tickets for Harlequins' next home match against Worcester Warriors are available to purchase online or by calling the Ticket Office on 020 8410 6010.