Saturday, 3rd September 2016 @ 19:30
Harlequins overturned an 11-point deficit to kick off their sesquicentennial year with a win over Bristol Rugby in the London Double Header.
Playing across the road at Twickenham Stadium, the home side struggled in the first half until late tries from Marland Yarde and Joe Marchant edged them in front 15-14 at the break.
The second half was scrappier still as the Aviva Premiership newcomers retook the lead immediately via a Ryan Edwards try before a pair of Nick Evans penalties ensured Harlequins would start the season with a win.
Earlier in the day Harlequins had made their way from The Stoop to HQ in miserable conditions.
Returning to the London Double Header for the first time since 2014, Harlequins were looking to continue their successful history in their fixture where they had won four straight (and hadn’t lost since 2009).
They had also won nine of their ten previous encounters against newly promoted sides, but it was Bristol that dominated territory in a scoreless opening quarter.
In the 21st minute the visitors finally got on the scoreboard as Tom Varndell intercepted a Danny Care pass to score his 86th Premiership try.
While Nick Evans closed the gap to 3-7, the home side was stunned again minutes later as fly-half Tusi Pisi streaked over from broken play.
Harlequins attack failed to spark but they backed themselves by turning down a shot at goal with a only a few minutes to play in the half. A solid line out set up the driving maul and Marland Yarde would join at the back to cross for the five pointer.
The home side were also rewarded with a penalty restart after Jordan Crane was punished for an infringement after the whistle. They would kick for touch again and Yarde would soon set up Joe Marchant to score as the Londoners went into the break ahead 15-14.
The conditions would worsen in the second half and Marchant would fumble the ball into his in goal only for Ryan Edwards to pounce and give Bristol a quick 14-19 lead.
While Harlequins recovered quickly and forced their way down field they again turned down easy points to unsuccessfully go for the try.
As the match neared the final quarter Care adjusted Harlequins’ attacking game plan and Man of the Match Nick Evans repaid the Captain’s trust by slotting a 36 metre goal following a scrum penalty.
Eight minutes later Evans would give Harlequins back their lead, 21-19, with his third penalty.
While in the lead they were by no means on top and the final quarter of an hour would be played on a knife-edge as handling errors would continue to affect both sides.
John Kingston handed debuts to Alofa Alofa and Ruaridh Jackson, the latter missed a penalty in the final minutes (one that had to be retaken after Varndell bizarrely tried to charge it down).
A last minute turnover on the halfway was enough to seal possession back for Harlequins and it also sealed four points for Kingston’s side. While it was an ugly way to kick off such a momentous season it was the win they set out looking for.
Harlequins now face back-to-back matches on the road against Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs before returning to The Stoop for the first time since pre-season on Saturday 24th September against Saracens.