Harlequins demonstrated their strength in depth as a much-changed XV marched into the semi-finals of the LV= Cup courtesy of a hard-fought win against Ospreys and a near-faultless kicking performance from Ben Botica.
Both sides were decimated by international call-ups for the Six Nations but it was the Harlequins’ understudies that sparkled as they edged a narrow win against the Ospreys.
In worsening conditions, Matt Hopper scored the only try of the game for the defending Aviva Premiership champions, with Botica adding points from the boot to allow the visitors to edge Ospreys.
Matthew Morgan opened the scoring for the Ospreys on seven minutes with a penalty but Botica – who has a higher successful kicking percentage than Ronan O’Gara and Nick Evans in this season’s Heineken Cup – levelled just five minutes later.
Quins may not have been able to get over the Ospreys try line in the opening 20 minutes but Tom Guest was particularly prominent for the visitors with ball in hand.
Harlequins’ domination of both possession and territory was rewarded on 16 minutes as Botica stroked over his second penalty of the evening.
Quins were rocked by first-half injuries to props Will Collier and Mark Lambert but the ability to call on experienced front rower James Johnston from the replacements bench ensured their set piece remained rock solid.
Hopper touched down for Quins on 29 minutes, rewarding a period of pressure from the away side, with Botica adding the extras to push Quins 13-3 ahead.
But Morgan ensured Ospreys were still in touch at the half-time whistle, stroking over two penalties to set-up a nervy second 40 minutes for Quins.
Harlequins boss Conor O’Shea looked confused as to why his side were not further ahead just moments after the break as Darryl Marfo burrowed over but was held up, which added to first-half disappointment for Seb Stegmann and Sam Smith.
Dafydd Howells thought he was going to dive over for an Ospreys try after the break but after sprinting away from Ross Chisholm, he watched on as the ball trickled over the touchline.
Harlequins’ inability to finish off the chances they created came back to haunt them as Morgan sneaked over a penalty early in the second half to bring the Ospreys to within a point of the English champions.
The Ospreys have a fantastic record in Bridgend against English clubs, having beaten Leicester and London Wasps in recent seasons and they made Quins – who are top of the Aviva Premiership and in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup – work in the final quarter.
With 15 minutes remaining Howells had another sighter of the Quins line but replacement back rower Maurie Fa’asavalu got across to make a crucial tackle and bundle the winger into touch.
Tom Guest also had a sniff of the try line in the final ten minutes; counter attacking after a poor clearance from Rhys Webb – the Quins number eight chased his own kick through by Morgan came across and tidied up.
On 72 minutes Dave Ward rampaged forward from a lineout and in the ensuing ruck, Ospreys No.12 Ben John was penalised but Botica missed his penalty – it would have been his 19th consecutive, successful kick at goal in the LV= Cup.
Despite staying in touch on the scoreboard, Ospreys struggled to get into the Quins 22 in the final quarter, meaning the visitors were able to see out the nervy encounter and rack up their tenth consecutive win in all competitions.
Morgan had a late opportunity to win the game for the Ospreys but the fly-half was unable to find the distance into the driving wind and rain, while Botica added a late penalty in added-on time to seal it for the Quins.