Harlequins have confirmed their spot in the last 16 of the Investec Champions Cup, after a high-scoring afternoon at the Twickenham Stoop. Braces for Louis Lynagh and Nick David built towards the 47-19 landslide, with Ulster run around the park in this bonus point win for Harlequins.
Louis Lynagh was the star of Harlequins’ strong victory, as he scored two tries and had a devastating impact after coming off the bench. Lynagh’s first score saw him run in a solo effort from inside his own half, and regather his own chip chase after a stunning line break. Speaking on Lynagh’s tries, Harlequins back-row Alex Dombrandt said:
“I went up to him and said, tow of the easiest tries he’ll score, the old lucky bounce! But no, fair play to him, you know, to be on the bench and then come in and you know, take those opportunities like he did, as it was two real good finishes. He’s been biding his opportunity and he came on today and took it, so full credit to him and yeah, really pleased.”
Harequins were over to open up the scoring after just four minutes, following a clever move from a quick line-out throw. After being pinned into their corner, the Quins capitalised on Ulster’s relaxed chase with a quick throw-in, with Alex Dombrandt shipping the ball to Nick David. The wing then darted away along the right touch-line, and capitalised on Ulster’s unpreparedness for a 60m run-in.
Ulster hit back with a stunning line-break by Rob Baloucoune, as he tore through the splintered Quins defence. The wing then shipped the ball out to fullback Mike Lowry, who in turn found his scrum half John Cooney in support. Back-row David McCann then joined the attacking flourish, and bounced his way through the covering Harlequins tackle attempts for an impressive finish. Cooney slotted the conversion to level the scorings after 14 minutes.
What followed was a disparaging sign for one of the latest England call-ups, as Oscar Beard was forced off for a HIA. Coming in the run-up to Ulster’s try, Beard clattered into contact and left the pitch in place of Louis Lynagh after just quarter of an hour on the pitch. Despite the despair felt around the Stoop for Beard, replacement wing Lynagh promptly lifted the spirits with an incredible piece of individual brilliance.
After claiming a deep clearence kick, Smith took the mark and a quick tap to re-start the play. He sent the ball onto a cascading Lynagh, who exploded through a gap and over the helpless tackle attempt of Billy Burns. The replacement wing then kicked the ball into the back-field, and with the luck of the bounce regathered in the one on one battle, before lifiting the roof off the Stoop with a real contender for try of the season. Smith made no mistake from the tee, to extend Harlequins’ lead to 14-7.
Joe Marler’s scrummaging power was on full display, as he battled up-front with two-time Rugby World Cup winning Springbok Steven Kitshoff. Marler led his pack to a scrum penalty on the half-hour mark, with Smith taking every opportunity to pile on the territorial pressure. Despite Smith excelling from the place-kicking boot in the first half, it was a scrappy down-field fly hack which created the chance for Quins’ third try of the afternoon. As the ball bobbled closer to the Ulster try-line, covering wing Baloucoune looked set to gather the ball, despite the Quins flyers charging down in hot pursuit.
However, the fortunate bounce once again favoured Lynagh, as it pinged out of Baloucoune’s grasp, and into the hands of the son of the legendary Wallaby. Lynagh dived over for the try and was met with an eruptive cheer in the white, blue, purple and brown stands. Smith’s metronomic kicking continued off the tee, as he sent a third consecutive conversion sailing through the uprights.
The remainder of the first half saw Ulster retaliate, with repeated line-breaks against the wall of quartered jerseys. Harlequins foundations had been shaken by the earlier score, and they were admittedly not up to their usual standards in the one-on-one tackles. Amongst the blistering line breaks, Marler put in an exceptionally heavy hit on Ulster lock Kieran Treadwell. The second-rower stayed on the deck after being brought down with the loose-head, and was subsequently substituted, with a wince in each step towards the side-line.
Harlequins held their nerve for the remainder of the first half, and were happy to take the two-score lead into the half-time break, against the impressive Ulster opposition.
Marcus Smith began his second half as he closed out the first, with well worked kicks to the corner. Chandler Cunningham-South picked the ball out of the air, and shipped the pass to the wrapping pack for a driving maul. The initial shunt was halted, yet the ever-aware Danny Care spotted a gap in Ulster’s defensive structure. Once again back in the England squad, Care gave Steve Borthwick a preview of his talents for the Six Nations, and weaved his way through the defence before diving over for Harlequins’ bonus point try after 47 minutes.
Once again Smith sent the conversion through the Stoop’s posts, with the hosts gaining a strong foothold on the game, and the faithful in the stands responded in full voice. Chaos then broke out in South West London, as Ulster too a quick-line out, as Harlequins were mid-way through a substitution. Irne Hebst was beside himself, as Joe Launchbury ran onto the pitch, yet the referee allowed play to continue with 16 Harlequins on the pitch.
Ulster worked their way downfield, and shipped the ball through the hands for Kitshoff to cross over in the corner. However, Mathieu Raynal went to his TMO, who spotted a knock on at the back of an Ulster ruck in the run up to the try. The chorus of boos was soon replaced by ironic jeers, as the referee reversed the try with Harlequins still three scores to the good.
Quins continued to through their weight down-field and won a penalty nearing in on the Ulster 5m line. Care once again showed quick thinking and took a tap, hit an explosive first step, before sending his towering centre Andre Esterhuizen onto the ball. The titanic Springbok battered through two Ulster defenders, and crashed over the try-line for Harlequins fifth try just before the hour mark. An uncharacteristic miss from Smith kept the score-line at 33-7, and Care then vacated the pitch to a resounding applause from around the Stoop.
Harlequins hit their entertaining best, and were over for their sixth try of the afternoon as the tries kept on coming. Once again the move began with Smith, as their talismanic halfback skipped through a gap and sent Lynagh away for another one of his blistering breaks.
Despite the temptation of wrapping up a hat-trick, Lynagh had a three-on-one advantage as he approached the last defender, with Alex Dombrandt and Nick David both pleading for the easy run in. Lynagh chose David, with the sin-bin renturnee grabbing his second score of the match. Smith’s conversion added a further dent on the deficit, with Harlequins 40-7 up at 65 minutes.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Ulster added a consolation score to give the score-board a forgiving cushion. After piling on the pressure for a series of short drives, the visitors sent their centre Stuart McCloskey onto a crash ball to score. Despite their best efforts to silence the Stoop, Harlequins were back down the opposing end just two minutes later, with it being ‘seven heaven’ for Will Evans.
Harlequins’ openside flanker was fastest to react, as Ulster’s replacement scrum half Nathan Doak sent a blind wayward pass ‘out-the-back’ and into the path of Evans. The back-rower then showed the back-peddling defenders a clean pair of heels on his way over the try-line, and gave the Harlequins fans a nice pre-score celebration for their seventh try. Smith made it 47-14 off the tee, yet despite the one-sided win, it was Ulster who had the final score of the match.
Once again being chalked up as a consolation try, the away side were back-down to score after a neat passage of play through the hands. Left wing Jacob Stockdale was waiting out wide, and dived over the line to add the final points on the ever-ticking score-board. A missed conversion from out wide was the end of the afternoon’s action, with Harlequins sending the ball out for a high-scoring win.
Following the match, Ulster Assistant Coach Dan Soper spoke about how he was disappointed with the outcome, with his side now elimintated from the competition and heading into the Challenge Cup.
“Going into the group, and we knew it was gonna be a tough group. But I suppose the disappointing thing is, is that we feel we haven’t performed, and that we’re going to live with that, we probably won’t go through and that’s on us, we’ve been being beaten by good teams and they’ve performed on day. But we also look at our own performance, and that’s probably the thing that will be most disappointing.”
With the win secured, Harlequins have their spot guaranteed in the last 16 of the Champions Cup. The all important home crowd will be determined, depending on the result of Bath vs Toulouse which takes place tomorrow afternoon. Speaking on the win, and his hope for a home knock-out fixture, Dombrandt said:
“I’ll probably keep an eye on the Bath v Toulouse game because I think that’s that’s the key one. I think you always have one eye on it. But then also, you know, looks like it’s going to be a busy eight weeks for me. So I have a couple of days now to try and switch off before that (Six Nations camp) all kicks off.”
TRIES: 7 (David 5′, 65′, Lynagh 25′ 32′, Care 47′, Esterhuizen 59′, Evans 72′)
CONVERSIONS: (Smith 5′, 25′, 32′, 47′, 65′, 72′)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS: 1 (David 8′,)
RED CARDS: 0
15. Tyrone Green 14. Nick David 13. Oscar Beard 12. Andre Esterhuizen 11. Will Joseph 10. Marcus Smith 9. Danny Care 1. Joe Marler 2. Jack Walker 3. Will Collier 4. Irne Hebst 5. George Hammond 6. Chandler Cunningham-South 7. Will Evans 8. Alex Dombrandt
REPLACEMENTS: 16. Sam Riley 17. Fin Baxter 18. Dillon Lewis 19. Joe Launchbury 20. Archie White 21. Will Porter 22. Lennox Anyanwu 23. Louis Lynagh
ULSTER RUGBY: 19
TRIES: 3 (McCann 14′, McCloskey 70′, Stockdale 78′,)
CONVERSIONS: 2 (Cooney 14′, Doak 70′)
DROP GOALS: 0
YELLOW CARDS: 0
RED CARDS: 0
15. Michael Lowry 14. Rob Baloucoune 13. James Hume 12. Stuart McCloskey 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Billy Burns 9. John Cooney 1. Steven Kitshoff 2. Tom Stewart 3. Tom O’Toole 4. Kieran Treadwell 5. Iain Henderson 6. Matt Rea 7. Dave McCann 8. Nick Timoney
REPLACEMENTS: 16. John Andrew 17. Andy Warwick 18. Marty Moore 19. Harry Sheridan 20. Marcus Rea 21. Nathan Doak 22. Luke Marshall 23. Will Addison
PLAYER REVIEWS: THE 6 HARLEQUINS IN THE ENGLAND SIX NATIONS SQUAD
1. MARCUS SMITH
With Owen Farrell out of the fray for the 2024 Six Nations, Marcus Smith looks set to return to the fly-half pecking order after his World Cup run at fullback. Smith will be out to battle against George Ford and newcomer Fin Smith for the starting 10 jersey, and ran out an exemplary performance with an astute kicking game against Ulster.
Following the match, Ulster captain Iain Henderson discussed how he new Smith was going to be a threat, having played alongside the halfback in the 2021 British & Irish Lions.
“We knew Marcus was going to be one of the massive threats. I’ve obviously trained with him in 2021 for a good bit, and I know what he can bring, watching from the outside I know the threats that he has. I felt for a lot of today, we felt that shut him down relatively well, but we switched off for one moment in that second half there and he makes a break and there’s a try, and that’s sort of the the threats that he brings.”
2. DANNY CARE
Danny Care remains in the England fold with the sands of time having no impact upon his on-field performances. Rugby’s answer to Benjamin Button, Care was at his very best against Ulster, as he scored a well taken ‘snipers’ try, and set up Andre ‘the giant’ Esterhuizen as Harlequins wheeled away from their Northern Irish visitors.
Harlequins Director of Rugby Billy Millard was delighted with Care’s performance:
“Danny is a smart player. You know, he’s pretty canny. And he showed that on the intercept, he didn’t have the legs to go far. But Danny was outstanding today, he’s such a smart player and and what people don’t see, well, they probably do see, but he’s tough as nails. Like he throws himself around. And yeah, he was outstanding again today.”