Gloucester went back to the top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP today – but not in the way they wanted.
A try four minutes from time by Tom Williams, awarded only after television replays and converted by replacement stand-off Chris Malone, gave Harlequins a thrilling 14-9 victory at The Stoop. However, the bonus point Dean Ryan’s side picked up for the narrow defeat edged them a point ahead of last night’s winners Sale.
Malone was the one breathing most sighs of relief for Harlequins, still unbeaten at home since October. He had missed penalties in the 65th and 70th minutes. All Gloucester’s points came from the boot of centre Olly Barkley, while Harlequins had scored first with a try from Nick Evans that he converted himself.
A superb long kick into touch by full-back Mike Brown set up the first of a series of Harlequins attacks, which eventually led to a sixth-minute penalty Evans pulled left of the posts.
That brought a moan from the home supporters in the sell-out 12,638 crowd, but just two minutes later Evans was receiving their cheers when he broke through from halfway and, with Iain Balshaw unable to make the tackle on him, touched down under the posts. Barkley failed to cut the gap with a long-range penalty shortly afterwards, but did so from closer and straighter in the 15th minute.
A clearance kick from Barkley nearly resulted in a Gloucester try five minutes later. With the Quins defence thin on the ground James Simpson-Daniel and Henry Trinder were almost sure to score if they gathered. However, the bounce of the ball evaded Simpson-Daniel and Trinder knocked on.
Evans missed a second penalty before Barkley found the target again after 29 minutes. That made it 7-6 and that was how it remained at half-time.
At Kingsholm in September Gloucester, ninth in the table then, had come back from 13-5 down at the interval to win 24-20 and knock Harlequins off top spot. Malone came on for Evans when the teams re-emerged, while Gloucester were quickly forced into a change, Anthony Allen replacing the injured Trinder. When Barkley landed his third penalty after 47 minutes the visitors led for the first time.
The two captains were then spoken to by referee Dave Pearson – more easily identifiable after changing at half-time from a green to a yellow shirt – as things heated up between the two packs.
Malone should have put Quins back in front with 15 minutes remaining when Pearson changed his awarding of a scrum five metres out to a penalty, presumably for something said, but he fluffed the chance.
When he missed another opportunity after 70 minutes Harlequins must have feared it was not going to be their day. But there was to be a late twist. There was still time after the Williams score for Gloucester to snatch it back, but some ferocious tackling kept them out.