Aviva Premiership Rugby’s Christmas showcase once again did not fail to deliver the goods, as Harlequins defeated Gloucester Rugby 28-24 in a sensational Big Game 9 at Twickenham.
Joe Marchant scored the only try in a nip-and-tuck first half that featured 22 set pieces, with Ruaridh Jackson outscoring compatriot Greig Laidlaw by two penalties to one to make it 11-3 at the break.
But the second period far more closely resembled the try-fest of Big Game 8, with Marchant adding his second after Jack Clifford collected Mike Brown’s grubber to score.
Gareth Evans and James Hook kept Gloucester in touch, before Motu Matu’u set up a grandstand finish with a try after Clifford saw yellow, but Quins held out in a spellbinding finish for their first win in the last three Big Games.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) December 27, 2016
Last year’s meeting saw a ten-try thriller that finished 39-39, and it looked as though the scene was set for a similar show when Gloucester’s Matt Scott broke through in the opening seconds.
But as the Cherry & Whites bore down on the line, referee JP Doyle spotted a knock-on and the game then settled down.
Charlie Sharples was so close to latching onto Billy Twelvetrees’ inventive cross-field kick on eight minutes with penalty advantage, before great defence from Quins halted the visitors’ maul from the subsequent lineout.
A moment of magic from Tim Visser on 24 minutes saw the Scotland winger produce a crucial line break before Rob Buchanan was just held up having driven over.
And from the five-metre scrum, the hosts put the ball through the hands with Danny Care finding Jackson who timed his pass to young Marchant to perfection for the youngster to charge through – Jamie Roberts creating some space with a clever run.
Jackson’s conversion attempt sailed wide of the target – his first miss in 16 kicks – and Gloucester hit back just after the half-hour mark.
Charlie Matthews kicked the ball out of Laidlaw’s hands at the breakdown to concede a penalty in front of the posts, and the Scotland skipper did the honours to make it 5-3.
But poor discipline from the Cherry & Whites at the end of the half cost them dear, with two Jackson penalties stretching the hosts’ advantage while Jonny May was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.
— Harlequins (@Harlequins) December 27, 2016
And Quins exploded into action at the start of the second half, scoring just 28 seconds after the resumption.
A poor Gloucester clearance was collected by the home side and Care sent Brown down the left flank, before the full-back’s devilish grubber was collected by Clifford who showed great reactions to claim the bouncing ball and charge over the whitewash.
Despite still being a man down, Hook grounded Billy Burns’ cross-field kick only to be ruled offside by the TMO, but Evans burrowed over shortly after to bring Gloucester back into the contest.
Jackson notched another penalty with Gloucester offside straight after the kick-off, but Quins then turned down another shot at goal just before the hour mark to kick into the corner.
And a move straight off the training ground ended with another Marchant score as he fended off replacement Andy Symons to score his second.
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) December 27, 2016
But Gloucester hit back again, working the ball wide for Hook to ride a tackle and get the ball down, and Laidlaw’s conversion made it 28-17.
Tim Visser’s try-saving tackle on Sharples limited the damage for Quins, but after Clifford was sin-binned, Motu Matu’u broke off the catch-and-drive to score in the corner and bring his side within a score – Burns slotting a brilliant conversion over from the touchline.
And in a frantic finish to a thrilling contest, Gloucester got a rolling maul moving from the 22 with the final play, but after Quins intercepted and missed touch, Jonny May was forced out to bring the final whistle.