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Marcus Smith inspires Harlequins to beat Glasgow Warriors despite second-half collapse

Harlequins survive second half collapse to defeat Glasgow Warriors
Marcus Smith starred for Harlequins once again - Getty Images/David Rogers

Harlequins 28 Glasgow Warriors 24

Harlequins edged past Glasgow Warriors and into the quarter-finals of the Investec Champions Cup after a gutsy second-half display rewarded the earlier brilliance of Marcus Smith.

The England fly-half scored one try and made two more before the break but the hosts needed to save themselves from slipping to defeat because Glasgow, with Sione Tuipulotu and George Horne excellent, were good enough to eke out a 24-21 advantage. A pushover try with four minutes remaining, scored by Sam Riley, sealed it.

Even if a trip to Bordeaux seems more likely, Harlequins will watch on Saturday and dream of a delicious home tie against Saracens. They could have Chandler Cunningham-South back next weekend to boost them. Smith admitted that the triumph flung a “monkey off our back” because Harlequins had departed the last 16 twice in successive seasons.

“Fans complain they are always on the edge of their seats,” Smith said. “Whenever we are ahead, we let the other team in and that is something we are trying to work on: consistency.”

This game was completing a post-Six Nations spell of three that Billy Millard, the Harlequins director of rugby, had identified as “defining” for the season overall. After a demoralising loss to Saracens and a frantic victory over Bath characterised by thrilling attack and flaky defence, here was an opportunity to reach a first quarter-final in this competition – and its previous incarnations – since 2013.

Glasgow, second in the United Rugby Championship and full of Scotland players, produced a start to dampen such hopes. They scored with their first possession, a patient attack spurred by carries from Tuipulotu, appearing for the first time since suffering a knee injury in February’s win over England at Murrayfield, as well as Kyle Steyn, Tom Jordan and Jack Dempsey. The busy Scott Cummings, outstanding in that Calcutta Cup victory, burrowed over from close range. Just four minutes had elapsed.

The visitors repelled a series of driving mauls and survived Cadan Murley spilling over the try-line. Line-out errors stifled Harlequins and their frustration was encapsulated in an ill-judged quick throw from Tyrone Green to Murley that saw the latter gang-tackled in his own 22.

Alex Dombrandt roused the ground with a surging break at the end of the first quarter. While he could not send Louis Lynagh clear, Glasgow’s indiscipline did the rest. Will Evans swooped to jackal and Harlequins were in the corner again. Smith found Andre Esterhuizen with a delicate dink. The strike skidded into the South African’s mitts and a touchline conversion levelled matters. The ruck was a mess but Harlequins were piggy-backed into the opposition 22 by a couple more penalties.

After a further two, Tuipulotu was sent to the sin-bin for creeping offside from a scrum. Harlequins opted for a put-in and, against an understaffed defence with a Warriors back line compromised by Jamie Dobie, the reserve scrum-half, deputising on the wing, Smith darted flat. He jinked past Horne and Rory Darge and over.

By this stage, Glasgow were well on the wrong side of referee Tual Trainini. A late tackle from Steyn on Green allowed Smith to put the ball in the corner. When the maul broke down, he ghosted to the short side and onto Danny Care’s pass to feed Murley. Harlequins led 21-7 at half-time.

Warriors, down to 14 men, were 12-2 behind on the penalty count as well. Dombrandt’s wily breakdown steal, a metre from the line, foiled a Glasgow response early in the second period but Johnny Matthews closed the gap from the tail of a maul with half an hour remaining. Horne’s conversion had Glasgow within seven points and the scampering scrum-half tied it up with a trademark support line, linking on the inside to cap slick work from Dobie and Steyn.

The tide had turned with Trainini, too. Evans, who tackled tirelessly, got himself trapped over the ball and Horne converted the penalty to regain Glasgow’s lead after an hour. Harlequins wanted a spark but only received a setback, Joe Marler seeing yellow for a high tackle on Darge. That they did not concede in the ensuing 10 minutes was testament to admirable, and decisive, grit.

Marler’s return yielded a scrum penalty and a mighty maul dragged Riley over. Smith converted, naturally, and the Stoop erupted when Duncan Weir’s cross-kick, aimed towards Horne, bounced into touch on the final play.

Match details

Scoring: 0-5 Cummings try, 0-7 Horne conversion, 5-7 Esterhuizen try, 7-7 Smith conversion. 12-7 Smith try, 14-7 Smith conversion, 19-7 Murley try, 21-7 Smith conversion, 21-12 Matthews try, 21-14 Horne conversion, 21-19 Horne try, 21-21 Horne conversion, 21-24 Horne penalty, 26-24 Riley try, 28-24 Smith conversion
Yellow cards: Tuipulotu 33, Marler 61
Harlequins: T Green; L Lynagh, O Beard, A Esterhuizen, C Murley; M Smith, D Care; F Baxter (J Marler, 40), J Walker (S Riley, 69), W Collier (D Lewis, 58), I Herbst (J Launchbury, 54), G Hammond (W Trenholm, 65), S Lewies (T Lawday, 69-73), W Evans A Dombrandt
Replacements not used: M Green, C Anderson
Glasgow Warriors: J McKay, K Steyn, S MacDowell, S Tuipulotu, K Rowe (J Dobie 22); T Jordan (D Weir, 69), G Horne; N McBeth (O Kebble, 60), J Matthews (G Hiddleston, 60), Z Fagerson (L Sordoni, 60), M Williamson (S Manjezi, 60), S Cummings, M Fagerson (H Venter, 60), R Darge, J Dempsey
Replacement not used: A Miller
Referee: T Trainini

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