Gloucester 9 - 28 Harlequins: Another fine win for Quins

Unbeaten Harlequins leave Gloucester’s Heineken Cup hopes hanging by a thread

If a Scottish player is to get his hands on the Heineken Cup this season it doesn’t look likely to be one of the Gloucester contingent. After playing heroically to pick up a bonus point at Toulouse last Sunday, Gloucester looked a little leaden footed in falling at home to English league leaders Harlequins after a short turnaround of just six days.

With back-to-back victories in the European Cup, Quins have now won an astonishing twelve successive matches in all competitions. Two losses in their opening two matches leave Gloucester’s Heineken hopes hanging by a thread.

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They home side enjoyed more than enough possession to win this match twice over but they simply couldn’t find a way past a determined and well-organised Quins defence which plugged the gaps, slowed the ball at the breakdown and kept their line speed throughout. It was an object lesson on how to win off the back foot.

The visitors were occasionally troubled by the pace of Charlie Sharples or the power of Lesley Vainikolo on the wings but that last piece of the jigsaw was missing, the scoring pass. Early in the match the big man was bundled into touch just metres short of the line after running over three Harlequin defenders like they weren’t there but that was about as close as Gloucester got.

If Gloucester were looking to the giant Samoan winger to break the deadlock they had to look elsewhere in the second half because, after taking a knock to his leg, he was replaced by Tom Voyce, who then ignored a two-on-one outside him late in the game when Gloucester desperately needed a try.

While they had the pauper’s share of possession Quins made much better use of what ball they did scavenge.

Quins scored two first-half tries, courtesy of full-back Mike Brown and centre Matt Hopper, who had a memorable first start for his new club, and a third late in the day from the old warhorse Nick Easter.

The first touchdown came after just five minutes and the second, killer blow arrived just one minute before the half-time break after Quins stole a lineout throw and it went a long way towards deciding this match as Gloucester were well in touch until then.

All Gloucester had to offer was three penalties by Freddie Burns who missed a another, more difficult attempt in the first half.

They might have had a few more but, as the clock ticked down to 80 minutes, the home side opted for attacking lineouts rather than taking the three points on offer without success.

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In the second half Evans added another three points from the kickoff and, when Burns shanked his own penalty attempt at the other end of the field, it looked like it wasn’t going to be Gloucester’s day. Minutes later a wayward pass from the same man cost his side at least forty yards. It was that sort of sloppy and careless performance that will have the coaching staff ranting over the video replays.

Admittedly, Gloucester improved a little as the match progressed and, when Quins’ flanker Maurie Fa’asavalu was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Akapusi Qera around the 50 minute mark, Gloucester sniffed a comeback. Burns kicked the three points from the penalty and his side were on the front foot and looking dangerous.

Several times Gloucester countered from deep, turning defence into attack, and going the length of the field only to make careless errors in the Quins twenty-two, or cough up a cheap turnover. More than once Gloucester’s “scoring” pass went directly to an opposition shirt.

Henry Trinder was the worst culprit after Burns made a classic outside break on the hour mark. Scott Lawson was in support to shift the ball to the right but Trinder lost the ball forward attempting to ground it over the try line. He was turned turtle by Quins promising young prop forward Joe Marler, who had somehow got across to make the crucial intervention.

Almost inevitably Quins survived that scare only for Evans to score his third penalty of the afternoon following the very next play. The 12-point margin going into the final quarter was a mountain Gloucester never looked like scaling.

nstead the final say went to England veteran Easter who showed an unsuspected turn of pace to sprint in from 20 yards and score his team’s third try of the afternoon, even if it needed the TMO to confirm the grounding was good.

The sight of big Jim Hamilton lying prostrate on the Kingsholm turf, holding an injured shoulder inside the final few minutes rounded off a thoroughly miserable afternoon for the home team but at least England’s Premiership have a win to boast about after Saracens and Saints both fell short.

Scorers: Gloucester: Pens: Burns 3. Harlequins: Tries: Brown, Hopper, Easter. Cons: Evans 2. Pens: Evans 3.

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Gloucester: May, Sharples, Trinder, Tindall, Vainikolo (Voyce 40 mins); Burns (Taylor 62 min), R Lawson (Lewis 60 min); Wood (Murphy 70 min), S Lawson, Harden, James (Savage 60 min), Hamilton, Buxton (Capt), Quera (Narraway 70 min), Strokosch.

Harlequins: Brown, Stegmann, Hopper (Casson 73 min), Turner-Hall, Smith; Evans, Dickson (Care 47 min); Marler, Gray, Johnston (Fairbrother 50 min), Vallejos (Mathews 73 min), Robson, Vaasavalu (Wallace 77 min), Robshaw, Easter.

Referee: C Berdos. Attendance: 12,320.