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Monday, 28 December 2015

Thrilling Big Game 8 at Twickenham earns Harlequins three points

A mist descended on Twickenham as supporters of premiership rugby union gathered for a festive clash. Love was also in the air as a marriage proposal took place on the hallowed turf ahead of kick-off (a tearful 'yes' was the reply).

A strong Harlequins team was picked for this feature; Jamie Roberts having scored on his debut for Quins last week against Calvisano in the European Challenge Cup was hopeful of a repeat performance today on his debut for the club in the premiership competition.

Proud Scotland captain, Greig Laidlaw, led Gloucester onto the field of play. It was the first time the Cherry and Whites featured in a Big Game.

And what a start to proceedings; part of the tradition of the Big Games has been to deliver the game ball in a very 'different' manner. Today the ball was fired from a cannon at Quins' home ground The Stoop, landing at Twickenham Stadium just seven seconds later. Fireworks, flame throwers and a jubilant atmosphere greeted the home side.

Gloucester got the game underway and the first scrum came just 1 minute into play. Quins' captain Danny Care fed the ball. It was a quick exit and was sent out to the wings to run. They met staunch Gloucester defence which kept the home side in their own half. Eventually the ball was kicked to gain ground however a penalty was awarded to the visitors.

They kicked for a line-out which Quins' stole. Care box-kicked out allowing Sharples to begin his attack. Another penalty to the Cherry and Reds after Quins failed to release a tackled player. They opted for another line-out on the 22. This time they reclaimed possession and formed a driving maul which made it to the 5 metre line before it collapsed. Laidlaw sent it wide and Gloucester attempted a grubber kick through, just failing to score the first points of the game.

Harlequins had a lucky escape but it did not last long. Brown leapt to claim a high ball which rolled forward allowing advantage to be played. The visitors kicked through for a foot chase over the try-line. Thrush won the race, touching the ball before Clifford. Converted by Laidlaw. Harlequins 0 – 7 Gloucester after 9 minutes.

On the restart, advantage was awarded to Harlequins as the ball was knocked-on. The home side passed the ball from one wing to the other. Care chipped through the defence and a lucky bounce took the ball into touch rather than into the hands of the waiting visitors 10 metres from the Gloucester try-line. The visitors won their line-out but could only make minimal distance in their box-kick. Although the visitors reclaimed possession, Harlequins stole it and made strides towards the try-line.

Marler, however, was penalised for a side entry.

Quins stole possession at the resulting line-out and earned a penalty outside Gloucester's 22. Evans opted for the posts and after 13 minutes the home side had pulled back some points: Harlequins 3 – 7 Gloucester.

The visitors kicked the ball long at the restart forcing Harlequins to play from in deep. Cheers resounded around Twickenham when Clifford broke through the defence. Gloucester knocked the ball into touch handing the home side an attacking line-out.

They claimed the ball and formed a rolling maul. Quins sent it out wide to a waiting Yarde who crossed the try-line with ease. A difficult angle awaited Evans and he pushed the ball across the face of the posts. Harlequins took the lead for the first time in the game: Harlequins 8 – 7 Gloucester after 18 minutes.

Following the restart, Gloucester found themselves with a line-out just inside the Harlequins' half. It was a fingertip save but Gloucester kept possession and sent the ball to the wing. The home side stole the ball but Horwill was penalised allowing the visitors to once again take the lead through the boot of Laidlaw: Harlequins 8 – 10 Gloucester in the 21st minute.

Harlequins kept their restart short and this tactic paid off as they reclaimed the ball. A scrum to Quins was then upgraded to a penalty after their dominance in this set piece shone through.

Evans found touch on Gloucester's 22 and Matthews secured the ball. The home side formed a maul and were awarded the put-in at another scrum.

Gloucester were penalised again for not hitting straight. The scrum was reset. It was fed well and passed quickly; too quickly, however, as Roberts fumbled the catch.

Applause rang out around the stadium acknowledging the brutality of the game as Afoa limped off the field, replaced by Nicky Thomas after 25 minutes.

Laidlaw fed the scrum and Quins did not contest it. Gloucester kicked long into the waiting arms of Brown who sent it back. The ball came again, this time it was Yarde who collected the high-ball but scuffed his kick. Luckily he was able to regather. Scrum to Harlequins. Care sent the ball to Evans who opted for a searching kick, caught well by Gloucester who called the mark.

Another line-out to the visitors who were able to keep possession. They formed a maul but strong defence forced the Cherry and Whites to pass the ball.

This time the home side earned a line-out just inside their half. They sent the ball wide but Gloucester stole under dubious circumstances and Hook made a clear run along the wing for an easy try. Boos rang out around the stadium as the try was awarded and Laidlaw made the conversion: Harlequins 8 – 17 Gloucester in 33rd minute.

The home side were keen to make up for this latest score and the fans cheered them on. They piled pressure on at the try-line and Captain Danny Care scored at the base of the posts. Evans added the conversion and with just under 5 minutes left of the first half, Quins brought themselves to within one point of the visitors: Harlequins 16 – 17 Gloucester.

The restart was sent long and Quins box-kicked out from deep. The referee Wayne Barnes played advantage until Visser spilled the ball under tackle. Play was brought back to the original penalty and a scrum was awarded to Harlequins in their own half. The ball was fed and sent out to Evans who put too much strength behind his searching kick, running into the dead-zone. Play was brought all the way back but this time it was Gloucester with the put-in.

The visitors retained possession and attempted a cross-field kick however Visser claimed the ball neatly and called the mark. He could not get much distance behind his kick allowing Gloucester a line-out still within Quins' territory. This was his last act as he was substituted by Chisholm through injury.

The final play of the first half was a penalty to Gloucester which Laidlaw pushed wide. Yarde caught the ball and touched down to end the 40 minutes.

Half time at Twickenham Stadium: Harlequins 16 – 17 Gloucester Rugby

Both teams had an air of determination about them when they retook to the field.

Evans kicked off the second half with a long-range effort and Gloucester attempted to run from deep. They only made a couple of plays before they were forced to box-kick. Quins attacked from within the visitor's half and attempted an up-and-under only for Gloucester to regather. A sliced kick from the visitors handed possession back to Quins however they knocked on.

It was a sad sight for Gloucester and England fans as Jonny May was helped from the pitch, replaced by Purdy in the 42nd minute.

Laidlaw fed the scrum and then sent the ball out quickly, Gloucester recycled well but Robshaw stood his ground in the break-down and the visitors were penalised for not releasing. The home side kicked for an attacking line-out on the visitor's 22. They kept possession and slowly progressed up the field. A penalty, however, went the way of the visitors who kicked for a line-out just shy of the the half-way line.

It was reclaimed well and they formed a maul. They made it into the Quins' half before the home side were awarded a scrum.

This was upgraded to a penalty and after staunch defence Quins were forced to kick. Gloucester sent it back for Brown to touch down behind the try-line.

Evans restarted play. The ball was caught well by the opposition and Twelvetrees made his mark, crossing the game line. Lowe stole and broke back however Ward lost possession allowing Trinder to run the length of the pitch to score under the posts, extending Gloucester's lead. Laidlaw added the conversion: Harlequins 16 – 24 Gloucester with 31 minutes left.

Gloucester substitution: Murphy off, Yann Thomas on.

The visitors were playing with a spring in their step and they made their way into the home side's half with ease. There, they earned themselves the put-in at the scrum. Some luck came the way of Harlequins as they earned a penalty which Brown kicked long into touch for a line-out back in the visitor's half.

Fans of the home side cheered on their team, attempting to lift their spirits. Within seconds the squad had made their way to within 5 metres of the try-line. Nick Easter then went over for the try at the base of the posts. Evans converted. Harlequins 22 – 24 Gloucester with 26 minutes remaining.

The atmosphere within Twickenham was lively. Such a close game. Quins chose to run from within deep. Roberts made the initial break; Brown was on hand in support and fed Chisholm who finished it off. Evans added the extra 2 points and retook the lead: Harlequins 29 – 24 Gloucester with 23 minutes remaining.

Fingernails were being bitten from both fan bases. Harlequins, now playing with belief, were overconfident when a loose pass from Care was intercepted by Trinder who limped his way across the line for yet another try, pulling the scores level. Laidlaw missed the conversion. Harlequins 29 – 29 Gloucester. 22 minutes left.

Trinder left the field, replaced by Burns; Buchanan and Sinckler came on for Quins; Collier and Ward off.

Gloucester kept piling the pressure on the Quins' defence. A searching kick had enough legs to roll towards the try-line but not enough to take it over. Harlequins, not wanting to take it over the line themselves to touch down, opted to run it back out. Unfortunately a tackle was made and advantage given to Gloucester. They kicked a penalty pulling themselves once again in front: Harlequins 29 – 32 Gloucester with less than a quarter of the game to play.

Even the home fans started to sound their desperation as Quins knocked-on handing a scrum to the visitors on the half-way line. They fed and gathered the ball, placing it neatly into touch within the home side's 22.

Harlequins won their line-out and they box-kicked long into touch. Gloucester took it quickly but the Quins defence had made it into the opposition half, forcing Gloucester to kick. Brown gathered and attempted an up-and-under, collected by the visitors who kicked through for a chase. Quins did well to get back but it was a knock-on by the Cherry and Whites which prevented the try.

Scrum to Harlequins just 5 metres out from their own try-line.

It was a well-contested scrum by Gloucester however the home side came away with the ball. They sent it long and Gloucester simply ran it back up field. They took it into touch just shy of the try-line. Harlequins secured their line-out ball and attempted to run it from deep. The visitors, however, kept the pressure on, forcing the home side to kick for touch still within their own half.

It was a good take by Gloucester and in their desperate attempts to steal the ball, Harlequins were leaving gaps in their defence. Play was halted momentarily as Quins knocked the ball into touch. They won the line-out and kicked long but straight into the waiting arms of Cook who ran from in deep. He wove his way through the defence and his momentum dragged him and the ball over the try-line despite the efforts of three Quins players who had managed to get a hold of the Gloucester player as he approached the whitewash. Laidlaw converted. A lead of 10 points with 10 minutes left.

Marler was replaced by Lambert.

Harlequins earned a penalty just within Gloucester's 22 and they opted for the points. Evans was successful leaving the home side needing a converted try to level: Harlequins 32 – 39 Gloucester with 9 minutes left.

A game of football ensued whilst both teams tried to settle. Cheers rang out when Sinckler broke through the defence however play was brought back for a forward pass.

The clock was counting down as the scrum was set, readjusted and set again. Laidlaw fed the ball and Harlequins won a penalty. Brown, so solid with long-distance kicks, placed the ball in Gloucester's 22. They secured line-out ball and sent it wide. The defence gathered around and an attempted chip through went into touch off Gloucester. Harlequins secured the ball and formed a driving maul. The atmosphere in the stadium was deafening.

Hibbard was shown a yellow card for Gloucester with 5 minutes of the game remaining. Another line-out to Quins and again they threw, secured ball and drove the maul towards the line. Gloucester's defence was strong despite being a man down.

Advantage was being played and they sent the ball out to the wing for Chisholm to side-step and cross the line for a try. Three minutes left and the stadium fell silent for a must-score conversion. Under immense pressure Evans made sure he was on target. The stadium erupted with applause. Two minutes left and the scores were levelled: Harlequins 39 – 39 Gloucester.

The ball was kicked from one end to the other and then Quins decided to run it. Met with strong defence, Evans kicked long and the ball rolled neatly into touch 10 metres from the try-line. 'Come on you Quins' resonated around Twickenham as Gloucester prepared to deliver the ball. (Rowan off; Dawidiuk on).

Harlequins stole line-out ball. They opted to grab and drive, making room for Evans to attempt a drop goal. He pulled it marginally wide of the right-hand post. There were two seconds left on the clock. Gloucester kicked long; Brown ran it back.

Progress slowed at the half-way line and the final whistle blew after Care was deemed to have knocked-on. A draw seemed a fitting end to an exciting game.

Full time at Twickenham Stadium: Harlequins 39 – 39 Gloucester Rugby

Both Harlequins and Gloucester came away with three points: Harlequins currently 4th in the table; Gloucester move up to 6th.

Attendance: 70,718

posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 2:51 pm  

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