Saturday, 30th March 2019 @ 23:15
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Harlequins reached the Challenge Cup Semi-Finals after a tense finish at Sixways, beating Worcester Warriors 16-18 thanks to a late penalty from Demetri Catrakilis.
Quins looked to have lost the match with five minutes left on the clock when a high tackle from Josh Ibuanokpe gave Warriors a penalty in front of the posts which Duncan Weir converted to give the hosts a one-point advantage, but straight from the re-start Worcester were whistled for offside and Catrakilis was able to seal the deal for Harlequins.
The Club will now face either Clermont or Northampton in the semi-final on the weekend of 19th/20th/21st April.
It was a stop-start game – and the two sides could barely be separated throughout – but Worcester’s failure to take their chances and Harlequins’ tenacity and resilience proved the difference in the end with Cadan Murley and Ben Tapuai scoring the decisive tries for Quins.
Harlequins led by three points at the half-time break, despite Worcester dominating territory and possession.
The visitors were hampered by early injuries to George Merrick (ribs) and Will Collier (ankle) and were forced to bring on Ben Glynn and Josh Ibuanopke earlier than they would have liked.
With Duncan Weir pulling the strings at fly-half Worcester piled on the pressure during the first 40, forcing Harlequins to produce one of their stronger defending performances, and Danny Care’s clearance box-kicks had to be spot-on to withstand the Worcester onslaught.
But it was Quins who scored the first points of the half when Murley went over for a brilliant try in the corner. Chris Robshaw did a great job of winning his side a penalty on the half-way line when Worcester were unable to release and Smith cleared deep into Worcester territory for the first time.
From the resulting lineout Quins were able to run good lines in the backs and a good burst from Ben Tapuai found Smith who shipped it to Ross Chisholm, who quickly passed it to Murley on the right wing who still had plenty to do.
Murley handed off Bryce Heem with aplomb and then charged past two more defenders, fighting his way to the line to put Quins 0-5 up. Smith could not convert and Worcester were swiftly back on the attack.
After 22 minutes Worcester won a penalty on the half-way and made touch five yards from the Quins line thanks to another brilliant Weir punt. Worcester threatened with a powerful rolling maul and forced their way in line with the posts – then another great cross-field kick from Weir found Heem on the left wing and it was the simplest of scores. Weir missed the conversion but were back in it at 5-5 and threatening again soon after.
Quins had a let-off after 30 minutes when another Worcester attack ended after Te’o made a forward pass and then again after 33 when a Michael Fatialofa pass found touch. The visitors made Alan Solomon’s side pay for their failure to convert pressure into points when, from the lineout, Smith put them under pressure with a beautifully executed up and under. Quins went on the attack and Tapuai was again making great lines. Quins were awarded a penalty 25 yards out when Te’o was whistled for not rolling away and Smith made no mistake.
Quins were able to preserve their 5-8 lead going into the break when a Weir penalty went astray with the clock showing 40 minutes was up.
Worcester carried on in the second off where they left off in the first and scored their second try of the game after 46 minutes as they brilliantly turned defence into attack from a Smith up-and-under into their own half. They went through 11 phases before fullback Chris Pennell kicked through wonderfully for Tom Howe to go over. Weir could not convert, again, though and it Worcester only led by two points.
But wave after wave of Worcester attack kept coming now and only some incredible defensive work from man-of-the match Chris Robshaw stopped the hosts from developing more dangerous plays. Worcester finally converted their extended pressure into points when they won a penalty after 60 minutes and Weir converted to make it 13-8.
Chances were few and far between for Harlequins in the second half but when Catrakilis, on as a Game Changer for Smith, started a move which saw Murley break away again, the try-line beckoned. But Murley’s ambitious off-load went astray and Worcester immediately turned defence into attack. They should have scored a moment later as they developed a four-man overlap but Brown produced a vital tackle and Quins stayed in touch.
Then, after 68 minutes, Paul Gustard’s side took the lead again when a loose pass in Worcester’s midfield saw Tapuai collect brilliantly and then release Murley. The winger found Brown who in turn passed inside to Care who burst through to the five-yard line. Then came the scrum-half’s almost obligatory moment of magic as the ball was recycled and he produced a wonderful kick through for Tapuai to scoop it up on the line and go over for five more points. It was Care’s fourth kick assist in this competition and, when Catrakilis slotted over a tricky conversion to make it 13-15, Quins were back in the ascendancy.
But then came Weir’s penalty after 75 minutes and the fear that a tight game had gone against Quins. But, immediately after the re-start, Darren Barry was penalised for offside and hearts were in mouths again as Catrakilis stepped up to take the kick from 30 metres to the left of the posts. But he made no mistake and then Quins were able to see out the remaining three minutes to qualify for the Challenge Cup semi-final.
Harlequins will head to Sale next weekend before returning to The Stoop on Saturday 13th April to face Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership (kick-off 15:00). Tickets are available online or by calling the Ticket Office on 020 8410 6010.
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