Friday, 23rd December 2016 @ 00:00
Two tries to Joe Marchant, and one to Jack Clifford, were just enough as Harlequins held on to beat Gloucester 28-24 in their second consecutive Big Game thriller.
The first half was scoreless for 25 minutes before the match burst into life following a Joe Marchant try that helped Harlequins to an 11-3 half-time lead.
The young centre would cross again in the second half, as would Man of the Match Jack Clifford, but they would have to rely on their defence to close out the match for them.
A yellow card to Clifford saw Gloucester fight back to within a score, and they had one final attack with 80 minutes up on the clock. A frantic defence would intercept, and eventually clear, as 77,500 supporters roared with delight at Twickenham Stadium.
Harlequins going one better than last year’s 39-39 draw with a memorable 28-24 win in Big Game 9.
Earlier, Harlequins were greeted with fireworks as they ran out on the Twickenham pitch but a scoreless opening quarter frustrated the home support. Harlequins' defence and set-piece keeping them out of trouble on one end, but handling errors costing them at the other.
In the 25th minute a Tim Visser break set up Rob Buchanan to cross but he was held up over the line. The resulting scrum dominated, as it would for much of the encounter, and Ruaridh Jackson set up Joe Marchant to open the scoring.
Gloucester would reply with a penalty but the home side began to get on top and Jackson would slot two penalties of his own to give them an 11-3 lead. The second infringement also resulting in a yellow card for Jonny May for a deliberate knock-on.
Within two minutes of the second half getting underway Jack Clifford would see himself cross for his second Big Game try of his young career. Making the most of their man advantage, Mike Brown found space up the right wing and he put a kick in ahead that bounced fortuitously for the back row to gather and score.
While Harlequins led 18-3, Gloucester kept themselves in the match via a Gareth Evans try as the Twickenham crowd remained on the edge of their seats.
On the hour mark Marchant went over for his brace, again off the back of first phase ball set up by the forwards, and the Londoners began thinking about a bonus point ahead 28-10 with 20 minutes to go.
The Cherry and Whites had other ideas as they set up a thrilling finish at HQ. James Hook scored to make it 29-17 while only a Tim Visser tackle metres from his own line, stopped it from being even closer.
In the 70th minute, with Gloucester rolling, Clifford was sent to the sin bin as his scrambling tackle was ruled to have not included arms. Gloucester kicked for touch and Motu Matu’u crashed over from the resulting line out to cut the lead to 28-24.
Down to 14 men it took a heroic effort from John Kingston’s side as they hung on for the remaining nine minutes to close out the match. Gloucester twice entering the opposition 22m but twice being turned away. A final attack on the Quins line was intercepted by Danny Care and, eventually, put into touch as time was up on the clock.
The 77,576 supporters in attendance at fever pitch after such a dramatic finish.
Like any Big Game there was entertainment throughout the day in the West Fan Village, stadium concourse and even on the Twickenham roof (thanks to a BASE jumper delivering the match ball) but it will be the action on the pitch that will live in the memories of the supporters in the stands.
Harlequins now move back into the top six of the Aviva Premiership ahead of an away trip to Sixways Stadium against Worcester Warriors on Sunday 1st January.