HARLEQUINS 28 GLOUCESTER 25
THREE 'hit-and-run' Harlequins tries ended Gloucester’s eight-game unbeaten streak – but a last-minute field-length scored ensured there was no car crash at The Stoop.
Cherry and Whites boss Nigel Davies lamented Gloucester’s sloppiness in allowing Quins to plunder three first-half scores that ultimately proved his side’s undoing.
But the Kingsholm club’s rugby director hailed Gloucester’s once-again unbreakable resolve.
Mike Brown, Matt Hopper and Sam Smith stole first-half scores for the league leaders, who returned after the breaking scenting try bonus-point blood.
Gloucester stayed in the fight despite yellow cards for Shane Monahan and Ben Morgan though.
And with just a minute left on the clock Billy Twelvetrees capped a fine 80-metre move to secure a fully-merited losing bonus-point for the Cherry and Whites.
Freddie Burns’ flawless kicking return of six penalties and one conversion always kept Gloucester in the running.
Lamenting three sloppy moments that led to Harlequins’ try treble, Davies explained: “They were hit-and-run tries weren’t they? We knew how Harlequins were going to play – hard and fast – and we just didn’t react quickly enough.
“I’m disappointed because I don’t think we played particularly well, but having said that the spirit was fantastic once again.
“To come to the champions and hit back like that was impressive.
“We might have lost but we put another marker down.
“One point is better than none.
“What’s important is that we keep the league table ticking over, and I think that will be important come the end of the season.
“In fairness to Quins they are a good team, I like the way they play, and not many sides will come here and get a result.
“If we’d been a little more accurate and less sloppy in that first-half, maybe we could have done.”
The Bonfire Weekend fireworks soared high above The Stoop as the second-half took shape – but Gloucester saved their pyrotechnics for the penultimate play of this game.
Under the cosh, down to 14 men with Ben Morgan in the sin-bin, Gloucester found themselves defending a series of five-metre scrums.
Eventually the seven-man Cherry and Whites pack won a fine penalty that owed everything to grim determination not to surrender their unbeaten away record.
Dan Robson took a leaf out of Quins’ book with a quick-tap penalty, and Martyn Thomas flew wide left and broke past halfway.
Shane Monahan continued the move exploiting a gap down the right flank, carrying Gloucester into the Quins 22.
Pete Buxton set up in centre-field, and when the ball came back breakdown slugger Billy Twelvetrees powered over the whitewash.
It was everything Gloucester deserved – if for nothing other than their ever-impressive determination.
Burns converted, Harlequins restarted – and Gloucester almost sensed a remarkable comeback.
The visitors even snaffled the restart, but were turned over on the ground.
Burns raced out and snagged Quins replacement centre Ben Botica, but the young son of Rugby League legend Frano wriggled free and blasted into touch for the final whistle.
The fact Quins deserted their quest for that elusive bonus-point try in favour of eking out the victory spoke complimentary volumes on Gloucester’s resistance.
Sloppiness cost Gloucester three tries – but their contact-area fight was once again outstanding.
Harlequins are the masters of giving themselves outlets from trouble, always boasting a man in the pocket for a safety offload.
Gloucester never allowed them that option, flooding rucks and shutting down those avenues away from traffic.
Evans and Burns traded penalties in the opening ten minutes, with Gloucester looking relatively solid.
But then Quins botched a lineout throw on the Gloucester 22 – with ideal consequences from their standpoint.
Fa’asavalu raced clear, drew two backline defenders with both packs in his wake – and all Quins had to do was send the ball down the line and Brown had the space to slide home.
The Cherry and Whites shook off the sucker punch and set about stealing the lead though.
Burns slotted three successive penalties, the second from a fine scrum – and the third after he took a quick tap and chipped into the Quins 22.
Gloucester flew up and hustled Brown into holding on in the tackle – and the pinpoint out-half did the rest.
The visitors only led for two minutes though: Quins’ trademark quick-tap penalty had Gloucester at sea, Tom Williams drew in three defenders expertly, and Hopper had a cakewalk to the corner.
Just when Gloucester were ready to accept turning around three points in arrears though, disaster struck.
Thomas forced a pass without drawing the defence – Smith received the telegraph, and raced home.
In recent times Gloucester would have folded – but how many times has that already been the case this season.
Burns’ fifth penalty cut the arrears after the turnaround, but then Monahan took out Brown in the air – clumsy rather than malicious.
Evans traded penalties with Burns as the game edged into the final quarter – but ominously Quins were almost camped in the Gloucester 22.
Another Evans penalty stretched the score to 28-18, and then Morgan – who had hardly returned after requiring 15 stitches to seal a head wound – walked to the bin for killing the ball on his own line.
Quins rejected plenty of shots at goal – the bonus point was their clear objective.
But just when they expected to turn the scrummaging screw, Gloucester produced a fine set-piece and won a priceless penalty of their own.
Replacement scrum-half Robson tapped and went, and in a flash Twelvetrees was under the other set of posts.
Gloucester left The Stoop defeated, but unbowed and with momentum unchecked.
HARLEQUINS: M Brown, T Williams, M Hopper, T Casson (B Botica, 41), S Smith, N Evans, K Dickson, M Lambert, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa’asavalu, L Wallace, N Easter (capt). Unused: D Ward, D Marfo, W Collier, C Matthews, T Guest, J Burns, S Stegmann.
GLOUCESTER: M Thomas, S Monahan, M Tindall (capt), B Twelvetrees, J Simpson-Daniel (R Cook, 41), F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 71), D Murphy (N Wood, 52), H Edmonds (T d’Apice, 71), R Harden (D Chistolini, 77), T Savage (P Buxton, 71), W James, M Cox (G Evans, 71), A Qera, B Morgan (G Evans, blood 64-71). Replacements: T Molenaar.
Monahan (48), Morgan (75).
HARLEQUINS: Tries: Brown (14), Hopper (36), Smith (39). Cons: Evans 2 (14, 40). Pens: Evans 3 (7, 60, 73).
GLOUCESTER: Tries: Twelvetrees (79). Cons: Burns (79). Pens: Burns 6 (10, 17, 26, 34, 46, 62).
REFEREE: Wayne Barnes.