Heineken Cup, Pool 4
Harlequins stun Stade Francais
December 13, 2008
Joran Turner-Hall slides in to score a try for Harlequins at a wet and cold Twickenham Stoop
© Getty Images
Harlequins snatched a dramatic 19-17 victory over Stade Francais with the last kick of the game in their Heineken Cup Pool 4 clash at the Twickenham Stoop.
A last-gasp drop goal from fly-half Nick Evans following a thrilling final passage of play enabled the Premiership side to complete a notable double over their French Top 14 rivals and take a giant step towards this season's quarter-finals.
Stade Francais looked on course to exact revenge for last weekend's defeat in Paris when Argentina fullback Juan Martin Hernandez slotted a drop-goal with just eight minutes remaining but the home side rallied once more for an epic final onslaught that spanned 29 phases.
Twice Evans was lined up in the pocket for long range drop-goals but with the Stade defence closing in he opted to cut inside on a mazy runs that took his side deep into their rival's 22. In the frantic moments that followed Ugo Monye first went close to scoring a try before a succession of forwards and backs looked for an opening in the visitors' defence.
In the end Evans dropped back once more before scuffing his effort over the posts. The referee needed to go to the Television Match Official to confirm the score but Quins needed no such ruling to start their celebrations.
Dean Richards side are now unbeaten in four Heineken Cup games this season and are now only one win away from the quarter-finals.
The Stoop was not quite as loud or garish as the Stade de France last weekend, where 76,000 turned out to watch jousting and can-can girls, but the result was the same - a famous Quins victory. Evans and Noel Oelschig exchanged penalties in the first six minutes before the Stade scrum-half danced through the Quins defence from the back of a five-metre scrum for the opening try.
Danny Care raced off the Quins line to stop Oelschig feeding his backs but the South African straightened through the gap and then cut past two defenders to score. If Quins boss Dean Richards was disappointed with his side's set-piece defence, he will have been furious when Monye was penalised for back-chat to referee Nigel Owens and Oelschig nudged Stade further ahead.
In torrential rain, Stade relied almost exclusively on Hernandez's kicking game but Quins dealt well with the bombardment and began to turn up the pressure. A barnstorming run from England number eight Nick Easter carried them into Stade territory but for all their territorial dominance, Quins could not engineer the vital breakthrough.
When Care burst through the lineout he tried to be too cute in difficult handling conditions and the ball went to ground. Stade were hamstrung by a misfiring lineout and when Easter stole possession after a poor throw from Dimitri Szarzewski, Quins powered through the phases but when ball was spun wide, Gonzalo Tiesi got in Monye's way and another chance went begging.
Quins earned a penalty under the posts after a scrum had gone down four times and Care, controversially, decided to take a quick tap. Easter drove over the line but Quins were again penalised for accidental off-side and Stade survived again. Quins simply had to score. They needed to translate their dominance into points to stand any chance of sealing an impressive win double over the French giants.
And just before the half hour they finally managed it. Easter fed Care from the lineout and Jordan Turner-Hall ran a brilliant angle against Stade's drifting defence to score untouched under the posts. After Stade regained the lead with another Oelschig penalty, Care again took a quick penalty and this time tried to pick out Monye, who had been screaming for the cross-kick, but Stade scrambled to defend their lines.
Evans edged Quins back ahead early in the second half before a brilliant chip over the top from Care piled the pressure back on Stade. Will Skinner almost drove over from the back of a lineout but Stade's defence held firm and eventually forced Care into an ugly drop-goal attempt, which was so bad it nearly went for lineout.
Stade snatched the lead with a calm and measured drop-goal from Hernandez and Quins fans began to rue the first-half decisions not to go for goal. But Evans then directed a brilliant last stand to carry them to victory.
Harlequins director of rugby Dean Richards hailed the impact Evans has had on the club since arriving at the beginning of the season. "The decision-making not to take the kick and hold onto possession were critical. That decision-making was something we have been lacking in recent years," said Richards.
"The other players will learn from that. Two or three years ago we would never have won it. I think the side is maturing greatly and we are starting to get the results we want. There is still a long way to go. We have won four out of four but there are two difficult games ahead, Llanelli at home and Ulster away."
Reflecting on his onw match-winning contribution Evans said, "We kept plugging away to get ourselves into a better position and even when it was 25 out it wasn't the best field conditions but I knew I would have to have a crack because I wouldn't get it any closer. It was probably the ugliest drop kick I have ever had in my life but it doesn't matter if it goes over. To nail that opportunity is very pleasing and it is a good step forward for the team as a whole. We knew last week meant nothing if we didn't win today."
Stade Francais coach Ewen McKenzie has not given up hope of qualifying for the knockout stages despite back-to-back defeats to Quins.
"We made a good fist of it. There have been a lot of teams losing - Munster lost last week, for example - and that suggests to me that if you are hunting for the seventh and eighth qualifying places you are in with a chance. The reality is we need to win our last two games. With pool competitions you wait until the end of it. We are not where we would like to be but we will not throw out the white flag either."
Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; C Jones, T Fuga, M Ross, J Percival, J Evans, C Robshaw, W Skinner [capt], N Easter
Replacements: C Brooker, M Lambert, G Robson, T Guest, A Gomarsall, D Barry, C Malone
Stade Français Paris: J Hernandez, M Gasnier, S Glas, M Bastareaud, M Bergamasco, M Bastareaud, N Oelschig, R Roncero, D Szarzewski, S Marconnet, A Marchois, P Vigouroux, S Parisse [capt], M Bergamasco, J Leguizamon
Replacements: M Blin, D Attoub, L Charlon, P Rabadan, A Albouy, G Bousses, D Camara
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)