Gloucester 9-28 Harlequins, Heineken Cup, November 19, 2011
Quins down Gloucester to extend winning run
Graham Jenkins at Kingsholm
November 19, 2011
Harlequins' Nick Easter takes the attack to Gloucester at Kingsholm
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Harlequins stretched their unbeaten start to the season to 12 games with a brutally efficient 28-9 victory over Gloucester in their Heineken Cup clash at Kingsholm.
The Premiership pacesetters issued a warning to their rivals for Europe's top prize with tries from man of the match Mike Brown, centre Matt Hopper and No.8 Nick Easter propelling them to their second successive win in the competition that may not have been their most impressive display of the season but still leaves them in control of Pool 6.
But it was a superb defensive display, led by the likes of flanker Chris Robshaw, that laid the foundation for the win with a resolute rearguard action shackling a dangerous Gloucester side that created many opportunities but could not make them count. The ever-impressive Nick Evans claimed an 13-point haul to steer his side home with Gloucester's notable industry rewarded with just three penalties courtesy of fly-half Freddie Burns and as a result they slumped to back-to-back defeats.
Quins claimed a 15-6 lead at the break having weathered a lively opening from the fired up hosts who enjoyed more than their fair share of territory and possession in the early exchanges only to gift the visitors the opening try of the game on seven minutes. Easter, in good shape and hungry for work, made the key surge inside the Gloucester 22 before the ball was quickly recycled and worked wide to Brown who coasted through with ease to do down for the score.
Evans added the extras to cement his side's lead but Gloucester were quick to mount a reply with some desperate defence required to bundle winger Lesley Vainikolo in to touch and deny him a try after one of many rampaging runs that would light up the half. Flanker Akapusi Qera then failed to take the ball cleanly with the try line before him as Quins struggled to clear their lines but the pressure did eventually pay dividends with Burns landing his first penalty of the game.
The score did little to deter Quins who continued to look dangerous with Evans happy to exploit the time and space afforded by the Gloucester defence but it was his boot that extended his side's lead on the quarter hour. Gloucester's work rate did much to shackle their free-running opponents and likes of centre Mike Tindall, openside Akapusi Qera and Vainikolo ensured Quins' defence were kept busy with a raid midway through the half resulting in Burns' second success from the kicking tee.
The pace of the game and both sides' commitment to an expansive and crowd-pleasing approach took its toll as the half drew on but Quins raised their game to turn the screw just before the break. The impressive Maurie Fa'asavalu was at the heart of proceedings, not for the first time, as Quins hammered away inside the Gloucester 22 with the home side's resistance finally giving way with Hopper, a road block for Vainikolo for much of the half, getting the better of his rival to burrow over from close range with his score confirmed by the Television Match Official. Evans was wayward with the conversion but Quins good for their lead as the sides headed to the tunnel.
A soft offside penalty against Gloucester at the re-start summed up much of their endeavour and allowed Evans to edge his side further ahead and sadly for the bumper home crowd, Burns was not so clinical a minute later when his pack earned a penalty of their own.
Quins' indiscipline let them down a couple of minutes later with Fa'asavalu was penalised for hammering Qera into the turf with a crunching tackle and as he trotted to the sin-bin, Burns reduced the arrears once again with his third penalty. Facing a crucial ten minute spell that was likely to decide the contest, Gloucester looked to capitalise further with fleet-footed fullback Jonny May sparking an attack inside his own 22 that swept downfield only to run out of steam as Quins scrambled well in defence.
Gloucester continued to crank through the gears with winger Charlie Sharples, Burns and scrum-half Rory Lawson spearheading the next attack. The eye-catching Burns orchestrated the next incision with a deft touch creating space inside the 22 but a superb tackle from Brown forced the ball from centre Henry Trinder's grasp as he looked to touch down.
Quins' response was typically clinical with Evans stroking over another penalty on the hour to quell Gloucester's fightback and put his side on course for yet another victory. But not content with their day's work, Quins powered forward again with replacement scrum-half Danny Care putting Easter into a gap. The England No.8 showed a good turn of pace on his way to the line to score his side's third try with the TMO required to confirm he did not spill the ball in the process.
Desperate to salvage something from the game, Gloucester streamed forward in the closing stages but once again they lacked the final pass to breakdown a resolute Quins defence that held on for a deserved victory that underlines their status as a major force in European rugby while a campaign that promised much for Gloucester is now hanging by a thread.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.