Match Reports

Quins take losing bonus-point in dramatic finish at Ashton Gate

Saturday, 27th March 2021 @ 17:00

Harlequins were left heart-broken at Ashton Gate after Callum Sheedy's 80th minute conversion condemned the visitors to a cruel 35-33 defeat.

Leading 33-21 with five minutes to go after controlling the second half, Harlequins were stunned by two late converted tries, the final one being scored by former Stoop favourite Kyle Sinckler.

Quins travelled to playoff rivals and league leaders Bristol Bears for the fifteenth round of Gallagher Premiership action, with third facing first in what promised to be an all-out attacking festival of rugby in the West Country.

The home side were the first to strike a significant blow, with giant Bristol second row Dave Attwood collecting a loose ball off teammate and number eight Ben Earl that could have otherwise spelt disaster for the Bears. With the ball falling backwards off Earl, Attwood seized the opportunity to catch the Harlequins defence off guard and run in under the posts for an opening fifth-minute score.

Dnny Care
With Welsh international fly-half Callum Sheedy adding the first kick of the day, it was Pat Lam’s Bristol who held an early 7-0 lead, with Harlequins having missed out on early points as fly-half Marcus Smith hitting the uprights with his penalty attempt in the fourth minute.

Under pressure as Harlequins won a series of penalties for infringements at the breakdown and lineout from the home side, Bristol failed to stop Harlequins’ driving maul from rumbling over their line in the 12th minute. Despite holding up the wouldbe try scorer, Bristol conceded a penalty try as Earl entered the maul from an illegal position, with the England back row handed a yellow card by referee Hamish Smales to add insult to injury. A Smith conversion later and the scores were all tied up.

Despite Harlequins enjoying spells of possession after their first score, it would be Bristol to once again restore their lead. Dangerous Bristol attacking runners managed to tighten the Harlequins defensive line enough to open up a gap for replacement back row Fitz Harding; on in place of injured captain Steven Luatua. Harding ran in untouched for a second Bristol try under Harlequins’ posts, with Sheedy kicking his second of the day to take the scoreboard to 14-7 in favour of the home side with 22 minutes played.

Andre Esterhuizen
Drama for Bristol and elation for Harlequins came immediately after Harding’s score, with Quins halfback Danny Care stripping the returned Earl of possession directly in front of the Bears’ line to dot down for an immediate return serve. Smith made no mistake with his second attempted kick of the day to once again bring the scores level at 14-all.

Guilty of conceding a number of early breakdown penalties for Bristol, the Bears’ star Fijian centre Radradra managed to strike a swift blow to Harlequins ten minutes after Care’s score. Running a physical line off the back of a scrum deep inside Quins territory, the Fijian drew three defenders before throwing an audacious yet subtle offload to centre partner Piers O’Conor, allowing Bristol to claim their third try of the day and retake the lead once more as Sheedy hit his third conversion of the day.

Momentum swung back in Harlequins’ favour late in the first half as once again in recent months the Quins scrum forced a penalty from their opposition pack. Kicking for a lineout within opposition territory, Quins’ tight runners earned hard yards to run deep within the Bristol 22. A high tackle from Bristol allowed Smith the chance to kick a penalty with the clock in the red, reducing Bristol’s lead to four as both sides headed for half-time briefings from their respective coaches. Half-time, Bristol 21, Harlequins 17.

Joe Marchant
Harlequins came out of the changing rooms recharged and ready to further chip away at Bristol’s lead in the second 40, forcing their hosts into another breakdown penalty ten metres inside their own half. Smith added his second penalty of the day to reduce Bristol’s lead to a single point at 21-20.

The visitors continued to press their opponents while displaying defensive nous to shut down dangerous Bristol attacking moves as the game matured into the final half an hour. Care spotted the opportunity to take the lead for the first time that afternoon with a well-timed drop goal in the 55th minute, at the surprise of the home side. With 25 minutes left to play, Harlequins led Bristol 21-23.

Nearly fifteen minutes of exchanged penalties and handling errors from both sides would eventually see Harlequins win a crucial second-half score as returning England centre Joe Marchant ran a supporting line off the shoulder of Springbok midfielder Andre Esterhuizen, with the South African running a physical line into the Bristol halfbacks in a set-piece move. Smith’s conversion with little over eleven minutes to play took Harlequins into a nine-point lead with 30 points on the board.

Marcus Smith
The Londoners further steepened the hill their hosts had to climb yet again in the final ten minutes as the Adam Jones-coached scrum won another big penalty, with Smith subsequently adding an additional three to take his side’s lead to twelve points.

Despite looking like claiming a dramatic win away from home, Harlequins began to lose their grip on the fixture with five minutes left to play as try-scorer Marchant was handed a yellow card for bringing down a Bristol maul on Quins’ line illegally, with the Bears awarded a penalty try. One converted score was all the hosts needed to claim a dramatic comeback.

Despite desperate efforts to halt a resurgence from Pat Lam’s Bristol, the league leaders would go on to win another penalty that allowed Sheedy to put his pack straight back on Harlequins’ line for a driving maul once more. A big defensive shove from Harlequins would not be enough to secure the win, with former Harlequin Kyle Sinckler diving over for the heart-breaking, victory-securing try with the clock in the red. Sheedy’s conversion with the game on the line at 33-33 sailed through the posts, seeing the home side secure a big bonus-point victory to further secure their spot at the top of the Premiership table as Quins left the West Country with a losing bonus-point.

Final score: Bristol 35-33 Harlequins

Harlequins scores
Try: Penalty try 12, Care 24, Marchant 68
Conversion: Smith 24, 68
Penalty: Smith 38, 44, 72
Drop goal: Care 55

Bristol Bears scores
Try: Attwood 5, Harding 22, O’Conor 32, Penalty try 75, Sinckler 80
Conversion: Sheedy 5, 22, 32, 80

Brown, Green, Marchant, Esterhuizen, Murley, Smith, Care, Dombrandt, Evans, Chisholm, Lamb, Symons, Marler, Baldwin, Marler

Gray, Els, Kerrod, Young, Lawday, Landajo, Herron, Tapuai

Bristol Bears:
Morahan, Adeolokun, Radradra, O’Conor, Purdy, Sheedy, Uren, Earl, Thomas, Luatua, Vui, Attwood, Afoa, Bryne, Woolmore

Capon, Lahiff, Sinckler, Joyce, Harding, Kessell, Bedlow, Leiua

Next match: Harlequins vs Ulster. Sunday March 4. 20:00 kick-off. Twickenham Stoop. Live on BT Sport.