Quins hold off Scarlets
January 24, 2009
The Scarlets' Matthew Rees tackles Harlequins' Nick Easter during their Heineken Cup clash at the Twickenham Stoop
© Getty Images
Harlequins gave themselves the best possible chance of landing a home Heineken Cup quarter-final by clinching a 29-24 bonus-point victory over the Scarlets.
Dean Richards' men ran in four tries - from Chris Robshaw, George Robson, James Percival and Tom Williams - in a dominant performance at The Stoop. The Scarlets caused Quins a brief scare with quickfire tries in the second-half from Wales internationals Morgan Stoddart and Matthew Rees.
And Gavin Evans earned the Scarlets a losing bonus point with a last-minute try under the posts. But Quins had already secured themselves maximum points and will now wait anxiously in the hope of being confirmed as one of the top four seeds for the knockout stages.
Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans confirmed after the Guinness Premiership game at Twickenham over Christmas that they would play a home quarter-final at The Stoop. Despite defeat in stormy Ulster last weekend, Quins were already confirmed as Pool Four winners by virtue of Stade Francais' defeat to the Scarlets.
But they needed a bonus-point victory to maximise their chances of a home quarter-final and set about claiming it with a ferocious start. The Scarlets withstood a 10-minute bombardment and actually took the lead with a penalty from Stephen Jones, but it came from their only decent attack of the half.
Normal service was swiftly resumed as Chris Robshaw's rampaging run after a break from winger Tom Williams carried Quins deep into Scarlets territory again. Dafydd Jones was penalised for holding on, but so solid was Quins' attacking platform that captain Will Skinner spurned a penalty shot at goal in search of the opening try.
The Quins pack was dominant and set a perfect attacking platform for the likes of Ugo Monye, who was in electric form before limping off with a back problem, and full-back Nick Evans. Skinner's decision came to nothing initially but Quins remained camped in the Scarlets 22 and Nick Evans finally put them on the scoreboard.
It was scant reward for 21 minutes of virtually unbroken dominance - but before the half hour was up Quins had raced into a 15-3 lead and were halfway to securing that try bonus. The impressive Gonzalo Tiesi claimed the restart and was driven 20 metres to halfway, Nick Easter crashed over the gain-line and then Robshaw combined brilliantly with Tom Williams to score in the corner.
Williams cut in off the right wing onto a pass from Robshaw and spun out of a tackle to make 30 metres before pushing the ball back for the Quins flanker, who crashed over the line. Quins kept coming in waves and almost scored another straight from the kick-off when Evans' deft dummy created space for fly-half Chris Malone, but his lack of pace was exposed and Regan King hauled him down just short of the line.
Quins secured a turnover at the five-metre scrum and remained camped in the Scarlets 22, sucking in defenders to create space for Robson to score the second. Monye left the fray after 35 minutes having apparently injured his back while reclaiming an up-and-under and was replaced by the exciting Quins academy winger Charlie Amesbury.
Quins almost worked a third try after Evans turned a scruffy ball into a chance but Jordan Turner-Hall's delicate flick out wide to Williams was judged just forward. There was little change to the momentum after the interval and Quins duly chalked up their third try as James Percival drove over following Easter's break from the back of another powerful five-metre scrum.
The Scarlets, having been on the receiving end for the best part of an hour, burst into life and scored twice in quick succession to put the frighteners up Harlequins. Wales fullback Morgan Stoddart, on as a half-time replacement for Ceiron Thomas, finished off a slick attacking move under the posts before hooker Matthew Rees charged over the line.
Quins almost stole Rees' lineout throw but the tap-down missed Danny Care and the Wales hooker regathered the ball and fended off three defenders to score. From nowhere, the Scarlets had recovered to within five points. Dean Richards responded by sending on Tom Guest - and the England prospect made an immediate impact as Quins sealed their bonus point.
With his first touch of the ball Guest galloped through the the Scarlets line, brushing defenders aside. Quins spread the ball right and Evans sent Williams over in the corner.
Following the game Dean Richards urged England to consider his skipper Skinner as a replacement for injured flanker Lewis Moody. "Will Skinner epitomises what a seven is all about and he is right on top of his game at the moment. There is a balance you have to have on a back row and I don't think we have had that balance at international level in the back row recently. From what I understand of the way England want to play, I think Will Skinner would suit that right down the line."
Richards also highlighted the strength in depth his side have in the back row, "I thought Chris Robshaw played extremely well. Tom Guest's contribution as soon as he came off the bench was telling. We will be without Nick Easter for the next six or seven weeks (with England) and Tom can play to the highest level. He is in the Saxons squad and he has the ability to play to the top level. We have got five or six quality back-row forwards who on their day can mix it with the best, not just in Europe but the world."
Richards continued: "I said last year not to expect too much from us purely because we were very young as a team and quite naive when it came to playing in big matches and big venues. We have a lot more experience in the side now because the guys have progressed and matured as players and we have brought some in as well. Danny Care, Nick Easter, Mike Brown, Ugo Monye - they have been on England tours and played in front of 80,000 at Twickenham. Gonzalo Tiesi has played in a World Cup up to the semi-finals.
"We are a year older and a year more mature and it makes a big difference in terms of their understanding and confidence."
Monye eased concerns over his availability for the Six Nations by confirming a back spasm suffered in the first half today will not prevent him joining England's pre-tournament training camp in Portugal tomorrow. "My back locked up but I am going to Portugal tomorrow and looking forward to being involved," said Monye. "It was a really random injury. I took an up-and-under and got up from the ruck and realised what I had done."
Harlequins: N. Evans, T. Williams, Tiesi, Turner-Hall, Monye, Malone, Care, Jones, Fuga, Ross, Percival, Robson, Robshaw, Skinner, Easter.
Replacements: Barry for Tiesi (41), Amesbury for Monye (36), Brooker for Fuga (49), Lambert for Ross (71), J. Evans for Percival (64), Guest for Robshaw (64). Not Used: Poluleuligaga.
Scarlets: C. Thomas, Daniel, King, Davies, Williams, S. Jones, Roberts, John, John, Rees, Manu, Cooper, Day, Turnbull, D. Jones, Lyons.
Replacements: Stoddart for C. Thomas (41), Stoddart for C. Thomas (40), G. Evans for Davies (73), Cattle for Roberts (73), I. Thomas for John (49), Owen for Rees (68), MacLeod for Turnbull (54). Not Used: Martens.
Ref: George Clancy (IRFU).
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch
Tom Hamilton reports back from the launch of the Guinness PRO12 where there is a renewed sense of optimism with all of the off-field changes to the league
So much for the great Australian revival, writes Greg Growden. It now has the potential of going off the rails after the capitulation at Eden Park
The latest Week in Pictures takes in photographs from the Rugby Championship, the Top 14 and the southern hemisphere domestic scene