Harlequins fell to a 53-21 defeat in Central France to open up their Heineken Champions Cup campaign against ASM Clermont Auvergne.
Clermont away always proves to be an outstanding trip for all rugby fans, and the Stade Marcel Michelin did not disappoint with a packed house cheering on the French side, and a strong showing from Quins supporters who made the long journey.
The home side took the lead with an early penalty, with iconic scrum half Morgan Parra adding the three within the opening five minutes of action.
On the 10-minute mark, the home side crossed the line for the first try of the match, after Alivereti Raka picked up on the loose ball and despite a valiant chase from Gabs Ibitoye, Clermont took a 10-0 lead.
Quins picked up two early injuries, with Glen Young and Scott Baldwin coming off in the first 15 minutes – a reflection of the physicality of the match. However, Young was cleared by HIA and returned to the pitch a short while later.
On the 17th minute, Clermont crossed the line again having turned over the ball before Lopez unleashed a perfectly placed cross field kick to find Raka. The winger quickly fed the ball into the hands of Peceli Yato to cross the line. Clermont’s Parra missed the conversion leaving the score at 15-0.
Harlequins proved their resilience however and showed the fight and hunger that Paul Gustard instils in the team, with a beautiful break by Ibitoye who offloaded to James Lang, opting to kick over the last man but the Clermont defence got to the ball first.
However, the home side responded instantaneously with another try from flanker Yato who powered through the defence and following Parra’s conversion, they built a 22-point lead.
Moments later, with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Tom Lawday crossed the line to give Quins their first try of the evening, with returning scrum half Danny Care slotting the ball into the number eight’s hands. Marcus Smith added the two and Quins were back in the game at 22-7.
Two minutes before half time however, Yato seemed set to have secured a first half hat-trick, but the referee went to the TMO to examine a possible knock on in the build-up. Much to the dismay of 17,000 French fans, the try wasn’t given and Quins re-set from the scrum.
Morgan Parra rounded up the first half with a penalty on the stroke of half time, with the sides going in at 25-7.
Clermont claimed the first points of the second half, with Isaia Toeava touching down after a fast-paced Clermont attack and extending their lead to 32-7.
But a brilliant response from Quins to narrow the gap as Elia Elia placed the ball over the line after a powerful drive from the lineout. Marcus Smith’s conversion took the scores to 32-14 after 50 minutes.
On the 61st minute, Clermont extended their lead through another Raka try with Clermont capitalising on having the extra man with Mike Brown down injured. Brown was replaced by Chisholm and Landajo came on in the place of Danny Care with the home side commanding a 39-14 lead.
The lead was extended with 11 minutes remaining, after a great kick opened up the Quins defence for George Moala to add five extra, before Scottish scrum half Greig Laidlaw added a further two.
Quins responded immediately however, with Ibitoye displaying his electric pace and agility to break through and offload to James Lang to slide over the line, bringing the score to 46-21 with less than ten minutes remaining.
The game finished up 53-21 after replacement prop Mike Tadjer put the ball down after another powerful drive from Clermont.
Quins continue Heineken Champions Cup action back at The Stoop on Saturday 23 November, facing Bath Rugby (kick off 17:30). Tickets are still available at tickets.quins.co.uk