Gustard upbeat after spirited Harlequins fightback
They may have suffered an agonising European Challenge Cup semi-final loss, but Harlequins boss Paul Gustard says his team can carry the momentum from their second-half performance against ASM Clermont Auvergne into the final three Gallagher Premiership Rugby ties.
After trailing by as many as 24 points thanks to some brilliance from Fritz Lee, Damian Penaud and Morgan Parra, Harlequins bossed the closing stages and almost completed a famous comeback.
Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw, James Lang and Alex Dombrandt all crossed to give the Gallagher Premiership Rugby side hope – but it was too little, too late as Quins were downed 32-27.
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A positive Gustard commented: “As a coach, we’re really proud of the effort and there’s a lot of lessons we can take from there.
“You have to be positive [about the final three games] – our defence was exceptional.”
Many feared that, going into the semi-final on a four-game losing streak in Gallagher Premiership Rugby, Quins would struggle – but a vivacious performance against the second-placed side in Top 14 was encouraging.
“This is a team that averages six tries at home – and has been unbeaten at home for a long period of time,” added Gustard.
“They scored eight tries against Northampton last time and just two against us – and both of those came from missed tackles.
“Our system and our shape was good – the enthusiasm and energy from our defence was exceptional, and we scored four.
“We’re hurting because that’s a game we could have won, but we’ll take the positives out of it.
“I’m sure the fans will be proud that we went toe-to-toe with a European heavyweight and the journey we’ve been on – from almost getting relegated last season – shows the progress that’s being made.”
However, the Quins coach was disappointed with his team’s early struggle as they fell 32-8 behind early in the second period.
He added: “Unfortunately we fell short by small margins – we started really well but our lineout hasn’t been functioning to the level to the level it has been over the last month.
“It meant we couldn’t sustain momentum or put pressure on them – and ultimately, the second try of the game came from a lost lineout.”
Quins will travel to league leaders Exeter Chiefs next week with hopes of consolidating fourth spot in Gallagher Premiership Rugby.