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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Director of Rugby apologises to fans as Harlequins suffer worst defeat at Twickenham Stoop

The sun shone on an emotional Twickenham Stoop. The final round of the English Premiership, the final home game of the season, the final home game for the outgoing Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea.

The clash of these two sides had importance for both teams: Exeter were looking to secure a home semi-final, having already staked their claim for a top 4 finish. Harlequins were looking to secure a top 6 finish and automatic qualification for the European Rugby Champions Cup next season.

The loudest cheer of the season started off the game as Evans kicked long. A good chase forced Exeter to box-kick from deep, already handing territory advantage to the hosts.

Harlequins were aggressive in attack, the Chiefs equally so in defence. Advantage was being played following a high tackle and Care took the opportunity to attempt a cross-field kick for Chisholm to gather. Unfortunately it was Chiefs who successfully gathered and so play was brought back allowing Evans a shot at the posts: Harlequins 3 – 0 Exeter Chiefs after 4 minutes.

Harlequins took the lead to a rousing cheer.

Within seconds of the restart the Chiefs were pressuring the Quins' 22. A line-out and kick to safety forced play back into the visitors half. Brown attempted a pass to Chisholm on the wing but communication was lacking as the ball went into touch.

Another line-out but Exeter could not make ground. They were forced to kick long and it rolled over the try-line for a 22 drop-out.

The restart was gathered by Waldrom who started the forward movement for the visitors. Keeping ball in hand they made it into the 22 before spilling the ball forward under tackle. Brown made strides back but another turnover saw Jack Nowell run along the wing. James Short crossed the line for a try for the opposition. The tricky conversion, with ball needing to be held in place on the tee, was missed. Harlequins 3 – 5 Exeter Chiefs after 10 minutes.

War cries rang out around The Stoop as Exeter again made ground from the restart. An under-pressure Yarde was bundled into touch for another attacking line-out. The visitors kept possession and formed a maul. The arm of referee Wayne Barnes went out signalling advantage and the Chiefs broke, passing wide for Nowell to cross. The conversion again pulled wide. Harlequins 3 – 10 Exeter Chiefs after 14 minutes.

A miss-kick from Evans saw the restart sail straight into touch. Scrum to the visitors on the half-way line.

The Quins scrum was again strong and Exeter released the ball before turnover was achieved. Roberts was then penalised by the referee. The Chiefs kicked long for a line-out, secured the ball and formed a maul. This time the hosts had done enough to win a free-kick. Upgraded to a penalty.

Blood replacement for Exeter with Kai Horstmann on for Waldrom after 17 minutes.

Evans managed to kick into touch just short of the half-way line. The visitors stole possession but Harlequins were able to prevent the Chiefs from going to ground, earning a scrum. Cheers of 'Harlequins' resonated around the stadium.

Care fed the ball but the Chiefs powered through, earning a free kick into touch 10 metres out from the try-line. The Chiefs secured the ball but did not opt to form a maul. They kept ball in hand, passing until it reached Ewers who scrambled over for a try which was converted by Steenson: Harlequins 3 – 17 Exeter Chiefs after 23 minutes.

The crowd attempted to raise their team's spirits and the hosts earned a penalty in the opposition 22.

They kicked for a line-out, secured the ball, and opted to grab-and-drive. Roberts sped through but was tackled before crossing the line. The ball was recycled wide and Care attempted to get over the whitewash. Initially held up but as more support joined him, he reached the ground. Barnes went to the TMO (Television Match Official) but ruled 'no try' due to a lack of camera angles – there was a hint the ball was down but it could not be confirmed.

Waldrom came back on for Exeter in a blood replacement reversal.

5-metre scrum to Quins as singing rang out around The Stoop.

The scrum was reset but Easter knocked on as the opposition scrum-half tackled quickly. The Chiefs box-kicked to safety and Quins earned a line-out on the opposition 22.

A newly-shaven-headed Ward received his throwing orders. He made his target and Quins formed a maul. Care broke away and offloaded to Chisholm who was tackled. The ball continued to be recycled; Easter to Chisholm but the Exeter defence was solid.

Care to Robshaw to Evans who fed a speeding Roberts. The ball was then sent to the wing and another missed opportunity as an attempted pass to Robshaw was ever so slightly mistimed. Quins knew how close they had come to adding an extra score as hands rested on heads with looks to the skies.

Scrum to the Chiefs. The ball was fed and the visitors earned a penalty.

They kicked for a line-out just short of the halfway line but interference by the hosts handed the opposition another free-kick. The Chiefs kicked their way deep into the Quins' half. They secured line-out ball and passed from one wing to the other. Robshaw and Matthews slowed down the attacking pace but it was relentless. An attempted chip over was gathered by Yarde; Care box-kicked but that only allowed Nowell to run again. More strong tackles from the hosts and Quins earned a penalty.

Evans kicked them back into the opposition half. This time the line-out was kept low; Ward to Easter who passed to Care, who sent it long for a fast-paced Roberts to break through. The ball went wide to Chisholm who slipped on the surface but retained possession.

Despite the attacking mindset of Quins, the Chiefs stole possession and grubber-kicked for a foot chase. Chisholm got back and somehow stopped himself sliding into touch (although replays indicated he had actually graced the whitewash). A miss-pass sent the ball rolling into the dead zone for an attacking scrum for Exeter.

The visitors fed the ball and Quins' stepped up their set-play, dominating the scrum and earning a penalty. They kicked for a line-out which Quins secured. Robshaw broke through the defence but in an attempt to keep momentum going, his offload strayed into the waiting Chiefs' arms.

With less than a minute of the first half left, Quins earned a penalty and kicked for a line-out in the opposition half.

Ward again found his target and Captain Danny Care ran in a try with Evans adding the conversion. It was the boost the hosts needed at half time.

Half Time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 10 – 17 Exeter Chiefs

As the wind picked up, both teams were welcomed back onto the pitch.

Slade kicked off for Exeter and the high ball was taken well by Quins who kicked into touch just inside the halfway line. The visitors secured line-out ball and formed a maul. Penalty to Exeter after the hosts were penalised for going in from the side.

The visitors kicked for a line-out inside the 22. They secured the ball, formed another maul with Lees supported by Williams. Their scrum-half recycled the ball and passed long to Nowell who slipped through an attempted tackle by Chisholm and over the try-line. The conversion was missed: Harlequins 10 – 22 Exeter Chiefs with 35 minutes remaining.

The restart was sent long allowing Exeter to attack. The host's defence was strong and the visitors were forced to kick long. It was taken well by Brown who made strides back. Yarde ran along the wing but his offload missed the target. The Chiefs gathered and kicked. Brown stopped the ball going into touch and kept momentum going forward. The ball was stolen and Yarde did well to back-track and kick into touch.

Scrum to Quins on their own 22. This was upgraded to a free-kick and Evans kicked for a line-out on the half-way line.

Double substitution for the hosts with Matthews replaced by Twomey and Sinckler on for Collier with 31 minutes left to play.

The line-out was thrown long but Quins retained possession. They made it into the opposition 22 but the Chiefs earned turnover ball and kicked long. Roberts gathered and offloaded to Brown under tackle. Brown made strides back and placed the ball after being brought down. Quins were not alert; Chiefs were and stole the ball. Their left-wing James Short escaped two missed tackles and crossed the try-line which was duly converted: Harlequins 10 – 29 Exeter Chiefs.

Replacements for both sides as Exeter made a triple substitution: Hepburn for Moon, Williams for Rimmer and Hill for Whitten; Botica was on in place of Evans for Harlequins with 29 minutes left.

The Chiefs pushed on and a good tackle from Winston Stanley slowed their progress momentarily. It took three Quins players to bring down the Chiefs' Dave Ewers, each time opening more gaps in the host's defence.

Excitement grew in the stands for Exeter as Geoff Parling came on for an injured Welch who had to be assisted off the pitch having landed awkwardly in a line-out. 27 minutes left to play.

The line-out was retained by the Chiefs and Nowell went over the try-line for his hat-trick. Conversion successful: Harlequins 10 – 36 Exeter Chiefs with 25 minutes remaining.

More replacements for both sides as Buchanan came on for Ward; Nowell replaced by Woodburn.

Harlequins needed to regain the upper hand which had been lacking since the start of the second half. Sinckler, less than 10 minutes on the field, replied instantly with a try of his own and Botica lined up the posts: Harlequins 17 – 36 Exeter Chiefs.

The restart was taken well by Quins. They attempted to run the ball out of their own 22 but a knock-on handed the ball to Exeter with a scrum on the 22.

The Chiefs were forced into a replacement as Lewis came on for an injured Slade, sent to the stands for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) with just over a quarter of the game still to play.

Another easy try came for the visitors as Brown's counterpart, Dollman, eased his way over the line. Conversion added: Harlequins 17 – 43 Exeter Chiefs.

Luamanu replaced Easter at number 8 for Harlequins with 19 minutes left.

A penalty was awarded to the Chiefs on the restart as Yarde tackled the player in the air and there was more positive news for the visitors as Slade returned following a reversal of the HIA substitution.

The Chiefs secured the line-out, formed a maul but it was the hosts who earned the put-in at the scrum. Harlequins chose to replace their scrum-half as Care made way for Dickson.

Sinckler was warned by the referee as the scrum was reset and then a penalty was awarded to the Chiefs. They laid the foundations for an attacking line-out inside the 22 as Lambert was replaced by Owen Evans for Harlequins with 16 minutes left.

A scrambling defence could not prevent the Chiefs' scrum-half from crossing the try-line. Conversion, right in front of the posts, was easily achieved by the fly-half: Harlequins 17 – 50 Exeter Chiefs.  Lees off Horstmann on Chiefs.

The visitors were on the attack once again from the restart: Slade ran unopposed along the wing for a try: Harlequins 12 – 55 Exeter Chiefs (conversion missed). 12 minutes left.  Roberts off Marchant on for Quins.

The restart was gathered well by the visitor's left wing and the ball was kicked to safety, handing Quins a line-out still in their own half. It was gathered well but the hosts were then penalised for holding on: another long kick by the Chiefs for an attacking line-out on the 22.

The ball was recycled quickly and the Chiefs made their way to within 5 metres of another try. Quins did well to earn turnover ball and attempted to run out of their own 22. In the end they box-kicked out, did not find touch, and the Chiefs resumed their relentless attack. Only the whistle from the referee halted their advancement to allow the physios onto the pitch.

A game well played, Exeter replaced Chudley for Lewis with under 9 minutes left to play.

Scrum to Quins. Marchant broke through the defence and made strides into the opposition half. A pass from Robshaw released Stanley who crossed for Quins' 3rd try (converted by Botica): Harlequins 24 – 55 Exeter Chiefs with 7 minutes left.

The restart was slapped backwards by Chiefs who gathered and crossed for another try as confusion reigned on the pitch over a possible knock-on. Barnes went to the TMO who deemed the ball bounced off the chest of Exeter rather than an arm, and the player then gathering the ball was deemed to have been onside. The try was permitted and the conversion added: Harlequins 24 – 62 Exeter Chiefs.

6 minutes left.

Harlequins had no answers to the continued onslaught by the Chiefs. The hosts regained possession and pushed on, Robshaw as always was in the thick of the action. Brown made ground, Clifford slipped through; out to the wing for Yarde who made further ground. The attack was laboured but Harlequins played to the end.

Botica sent the ball wide to Yarde again who was tackled just short of the try line. Scrum and Quins went over but it was deemed Luamanu lost control of the ball on grounding. Quins came again but a penalty was awarded to the Chiefs and as the clock counted down, the final whistle blew.

Full Time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 24 – 62 Exeter Chiefs

In a 13-try game, Harlequins were completely outplayed. There were moments of individual brilliance by the hosts however not enough of a team effort to put up a fight against a very determined Exeter Chiefs side. The visitors earning the right to a home semi-final against Wasps in a fortnight.

The final home game of the season, the final home game for outgoing Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea, was the worst loss Harlequins have ever experienced at The Stoop.

Harlequins finish the season in 7th place missing out on automatic qualification for the top tier of European Rugby next year. They must win next week in Lyon to earn a place in the European Champions Cup next season.
posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 5:00 pm  

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