Sunday, 27th December 2015 @ 19:50
Harlequins fought back from ten points down with ten minutes to play to secure a dramatic draw in Big Game 8. Both sides also picked up a try-bonus point as they combined for ten tries in a 39-39 thriller.
Harlequins’ Big Game is one of the most exciting matches on the Aviva Premiership Rugby calendar and this edition lived up to the hype in front of over 70,000 fans at Twickenham Stadium.
With two tries a piece in the opening spell only the boot of Greg Laidlaw separated the two sides as Gloucester Rugby took a slender 15-17 advantage into the break.
The second half was even wilder as brilliant rugby from both sides saw another six tries scored as Harlequins roared back in front of their home supporters. As the clock wound down a Nick Evans drop goal attempt sailed inches wide and the crowd could finally exhale with the scores locked at 39-39.
Earlier, Harlequins came into the fixture unbeaten at home since May and while they weren’t playing at The Stoop they looked for their form to continue across the road at HQ.
With both sides stacked with Internationals and the fireworks providing an incredible pre-match show – the occasion felt big to all those in attendance. It was the travelling supporters who were on their feet first though as All Black Jeremy Thrush scored from broken play to give Gloucester a 0-7 lead after as many minutes.
Harlequins Captain Danny Care would lead his team back into the match soon after with some clever running and kicking, which would soon help them to the lead. First through a Nick Evans penalty shortly followed by a Marland Yarde try in the corner after the momentum began to shift the Londoner’s way. Yarde scoring his second in as many weeks.
Ill discipline and silly errors would soon cost them that lead, and would plague them for much of the remaining hour. First Laidlaw landed a penalty of his own before James Hook capitalised on a Matt Kevasic turnover in their own 22 to run the length of the field. The score quickly shifting to 8-17 in favour of the visitors.
Care would once again drag his side back into the match, this time darting over from close range to close the gap to 15-17, but Barnes would blow the whistle on the half before the score could change again. An entertaining first half but one that would pale in comparison to the topsy-turvy, second forty minutes.
As they have done so often this season Harlequins came out in the second half behind on the scoreboard but hot on attack. A number of clean breaks straight down the middle had the Gloucester defence reeling but a handling error would see Henry Trinder pounce and again run the length of the field to score for the Cherry and Whites. Now down 15-24 the home side was in trouble.
It was another Big Game veteran that kept Harlequins in the match, Nick Easter going over for a try in his eighth Big Game. This spurred his side on and from the resulting re-start Jamie Roberts, on his Premiership debut, smashed through his opposing defender and soon found Ross Chisholm for the score. An electric 80 metre try that had the crowd on their feet. Suddenly Harlequins were up 29-24 after 55 minutes while picking up their seventh try-bonus point in succession.
But just as they began to find their groove a mistake would bring Gloucester back in to the match again. Harlequins ambition getting the better of them as a forced offload only found Trinder who went over for his second.
On the hour mark they would then concede a penalty before a scintillating Rob Cook run saw him wrong foot three Quins' defenders as he swerved in to score under the posts. It was only the travelling Gloucester support cheering now as Harlequins faced a 29-39 hole with just ten minutes remaining.
Harlequins would remain calm under pressure and they won a penalty from the restart, opting for the three points to close the gap to a single score. They would soon win another and this time put it into the corner to go for the try.
The dominant Harlequins forward pack would secure their line out ball and with a deafening crowd behind them force Gloucester hooker Richard Hibbard to concede a yellow card for killing the ball. The next few minutes saw Harlequins line out secure ball time and time again before their maul finally set up Ross Chisholm who was free on the left wing to score. The replacement crossing for his second try to take the score to 37-39. Nick Evans would calmly step up to level the scores from the sideline with three minutes to play.
Harlequins would have one last attack on the Gloucester line and they set Evans up in good position for a drop goal, only for it too float inches wide. Barnes would blow his whistle on the encounter and the scores were left level at 39-39, a heart stopping spectacle that had every last spectator in the stadium screaming with excitement.
While both sides would feel disappointed not to pick up a win they will both leave with three competition points and a candidate for match of the season. Big Game again proving to be one of the most exciting fixtures on the rugby calendar.