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Montpellier 40-26 Harlequins: Visitors score four late tries to salvage their Champions Cup hopes

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Montpellier 40-26 Harlequins: Visitors score FOUR late tries to salvage their Champions Cup quarter-final hopes after trailing 34-0 in first leg

  • English No 8 Zach Mercer crossed twice as Montpellier raced into a 34-0 lead
  • Andre Esterhuizen crashed over the line as Quins scored 19 points in 14 minutes
  • Before Louis Lynagh intercepted and sprinted 70 metres to score the final try

When Danny Care booted the ball into Joe Marler’s backside and it ricocheted into Montpellier hands for another try, it felt like this was not going to be Harlequins’ day.

They were on a collision course for total humiliation, trailing 34-0 and primed to leave France with nothing but heatstroke.

This could have been the end of their European campaign. It could have descended into the biggest defeat of the Tabai Matson era but, in classic Quins style, they launched a spectacular comeback.

Harlequins recovered from 34-0 down to salvage their Champions Cup quarter-final hopes

Harlequins recovered from 34-0 down to salvage their Champions Cup quarter-final hopes

‘Are you Bristol in disguise?’ chanted the travelling fans, with echoes of last season’s Premiership play-off at Ashton Gate. Back then, they overturned a 28-0 deficit and went on to win the Premiership title. Here, they left with four late tries and a fighting chance in Saturday’s second leg.

For 50 minutes, Quins looked like a sevens team on a summer social. They dropped ball after ball and Marcus Smith’s playbook looked like it had been chucked into the Mediterranean Sea.

Montpellier’s team of giants delivered a masterclass, with exiled England No 8 Zach Mercer running riot. Eddie Jones must take note. Gabriel N’Gandebe picked off Smith’s loose crossfield kick to score the first, before Mercer added the second.

Andre Esterhuizen crashed over from a tap penalty as Quins scored four tries late on

Andre Esterhuizen crashed over from a tap penalty as Quins scored four tries late on

Even the ever-reliable Andre Esterhuizen was faltering, sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on. Cobus Reinach scored the third after Marler’s unfortunate assist, before Mercer galloped away from Huw Jones for the fourth. 

Quins could not handle the power as Titi Lamositele and Paolo Garbisi’s boot extended the lead early in the second half.

‘When we were down 34-0 it was pretty humiliating,’ admitted Quins coach Matson. ‘We were pretty disappointed as a coaching group. We could see the errors in what we were doing. We missed a lot of kicking space.’

English number eight Zach Mercer crossed twice for Montpellier in the first-half

English number eight Zach Mercer crossed twice for Montpellier in the first-half 

All over? George Hammond didn’t think so, as the Quins flanker touched down Smith’s grubber kick to launch the comeback. Montpellier loosened up, deserting their territorial game and gifting turnover opportunities. Esterhuizen crashed over from a tap penalty, before Louis Lynagh set up Joe Marchant for 19 points in 14 minutes.

Handre Pollard added six points from the bench, but the Springbok No 10’s loose pass was picked off by Lynagh, who sprinted 70 metres to score one final try.

‘The silver lining is we are down by 14 and we go back to the Stoop and we showed a bit of fight,’ added Matson. ‘There was a calmness there and the players said, “Let’s try and score three tries in the second half”. The belief is always there.’

Montpellier have lost 19 of their last 20 away games in the Champions Cup. After last season’s heroics, Harlequins will fancy their chances.

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