October 14 2012
Normal service has been resumed. It was almost inevitable, following the debacle at Exeter last week, that there would be a backlash visited upon the next opponents. It was Biarritz Olympique that felt the force of the backlash as a win by 40 -13 opened Harlequins’ Heineken Cup campaign securing a four- try bonus point to head the pool table
This was a hard, unrelentingly physical encounter and with scores level was delicately poised at the interval. The early exchanges were the French pack seeking to exert dominance over the English champions while Quins sought to attack with pace. The opening score came from a training ground move at a lineout, last seen when Danny Care scored from it at Vicarage Road a few years ago. An excellent, inventive attack had taken play into the Basque twenty-two where Quins gained a lineout. The throw to Robshaw at the tail had drawn a gap in the Biarritz line and the ball came down to Care who sped through the gap, jinked past the last defender and scored by the posts. Evans added the simple conversion.
A missed penalty attempt by the French fly-half was soon followed by a successful kick from much closer. It was followed, too, by a yellow card for Haylett-Petty, the winger taking out Tom Williams in the air. For Quins, disaster appeared to strike when Nick Evans limped off after the first quarter of an hour to be replaced by another New Zealander in Ben Botica. The transition was seamless as almost immediately a forty metre penalty kick sailed from the new fly-half’s boot straight between the posts to extend the lead.
Still down to fourteen men, the French responded by a kick and chase which forced Monye to concede a lineout about ten metres from the Quins’ line. The catch and drive crossed the line and after consultation with the television match official a try was confirmed. The successful conversion drew the scores level. Soon afterwards another penalty put Biarritz into the lead for the only time in the match. But not for long as Botica first hit the post with a penalty attempt and the levelled the scores again with a simple kick in front of the posts. A poor unsuccessful attempt at a drop goal was all that the French could muster as time ran out to the interval.
Harlequins started the second half in attack mode and two penalties followed by a fine rolling maul took them deep into the French twenty-two. Pressure on the French line was intense and eventually Rob Buchanan burrowed over for the try. Botica added the extras and after four minutes of the second half it was clear that Quins had stepped up their game. Their pack was ever more dominant and when, in the eleventh and twenty-third minutes of the half, Botica had added another six points from successful penalty kicks there was only going to be one result.
Then a superb break by Danny Care sparked another irresistible attack from Quins which ended with a try from Jordan Turner Hall duly converted by Botica extending the lead still further to 33 – 13. Quins went in pursuit of a fourth try and a bonus point. Attack followed attack. The forwards dominated the set piece and in the very last minuted Seb Stegmann was put over for the try in the left corner, Bottica added the conversion to bring his personal tally to 18 points.
This was a comprehensive performance that makes the Exeter match even less understandable. Nick Easter again showed that he is the best No.8 in England, Care was at his speedy, impish best and in Botica there is a fine deputy for Evans. All in all a most satisfactory start to this year’s European competition.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, M Hopper, J Turner-Hall, U Monye (S Stegmann, 61); N Evans (B Boticza, 17), D Care; J Marler (M Lambert, 76), R Buchanan, J Johnston (W Collier, 77), O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 56), N Easter, C Robshaw (capt, D Ward, 76).
Biarritz I Balshaw; T Ngwenya, D Haylett-Petty (D Traille, 64), S Burotu (C Gimenez, 54), A Brew; J Peyrelongue, Y Lesgourgues; F Barcella (W Blauuw, 59), A Heguy, F Gomez Kodela (T Synaeghel, 70), E Lund, T Dubarry, (P Taele 49), M Lund (capt), T Gray (B Guyot, 35), W Lauret.
Referee G Clancy (Ireland).