Friday, 18th January 2019 @ 19:45
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Harlequins got the job done in France and qualified for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a five-try victory against Agen. Tries from Jack Clifford, Max Crumpton, Gabriel Ibitoye, Nathan Earle and Joe Marchant secured the win the Club needed to qualify.
It looked set to be a positive evening for the visitors even after five minutes when a period of sustained pressure saw Clifford go over under the posts. The flanker’s try was a fantastic way to cap a brilliant week for him, having been selected for the England squad yesterday. Clifford was on inspired form all evening and earned his Man of the Match award.
However Quins were unable to make early dominance count and, after 19 minutes Agen were back on level terms at 7-7 when a quickly taken penalty saw the ball shipped out to tricky winger Valentin Saurs who sprinted over the line.
But Harlequins remained in the ascendancy and with Magic Man Danny Care distributing quick ball to a back line including wingers Earle and Ibitoye who seemed to be itching to run at their opponents, another Quins try seemed inevitable. It came in the end from what is proving to be a trademark move for the Club this season – a lineout on the five-yard line, the ball quickly moved to Dombrandt who popped it inside to Crumpton who piled over the line. Dombrandt was unable to add to his tally of nine tries this season last night but his impact was being felt all over the pitch in another impressive first half for the Number eight.
Indeed it was another lovely Dombrandt offload to Smith who almost put Ibitoye through for a try after 39 minutes with a lovely chipped kick onto the right wing. The pressure that built from that move earned Quins a scrum in a central position five yards from the line and when the ball came to Ibitoye again on the left hand side this time, he sensed an opportunity and found a way to dart over the line with time up in the first half. Smith converted again and Quins went into the break with a deserved 12-point lead.
With Renaldo Bothma on for Dombrandt in the second half, the Namibian had an immediate impact with a burst through the middle. Then it was all down to Care and Earle to combine for Harlequins’ fourth try of the match. Care’s glorious chip found Earle, 15 yards from the line and still with work to do but the winger made no mistake and the visitors now looked on course for victory at 7-26 after 45 minutes.
Harlequins’ fifth try was the best of the lot, though, and again Care was instrumental in creating it. This time some relentless Quins pressure forced a penalty and a lineout on the Agen five-yard line. The rolling maul then fed the ball back to Care who, again, placed a beautiful kick into the arms of the on-rushing Joe Marchant who was on as a Game Changer and, with the lead at 7-33, the match looked over after 63 minutes.
Agen refused to lie down though and, with Quins down to 14 after Lewis Boyce was handed a yellow card for a high tackle, they scored from their own rolling maul following a lineout on Quins’ five-yard line. Emboldened, their backs continued to run hard and fast at Harlequins and the hosts scored another deserved try after 74 minutes when substitute Fouad Yaha finished a devastating move for the French side.
But it was never going to be enough and Quins battled hard until the end to see out the match and record their fourth successive win. And with it qualify for the latter stages of the Challenge Cup. It was a victory they needed with group rivals Benetton winning 7-39 in Grenoble and they could leave Agen satisfied that they had completed a job well done.
Harlequins next home game is against Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup on Saturday 26th January (kick-off 15:00).
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