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Saturday, 13 October 2018

Harlequins open European Challenge Cup Campaign with 54-22 win over Agen

A sunny and warm afternoon greeted the fans at The Stoop in Twickenham. The first round of the 2018-19 European Rugby Challenge Cup was to be an unknown affair for the hosts, having never played against French club Agen before.

Historically, Harlequins have faired well when playing TOP 14 opposition in the Challenge Cup, winning 9 out of 10 home games.

Harlequins Number 8 James Chisholm captained the side for today’s clash.

As the two sides ran out onto the pitch, there was an air of excitement and a determination to win.

Marcus Smith kicked off proceeding for the hosts. A good chase kept the visitors pinned down in their own 22 and they were forced to kick for touch. Brown attempted to catch the ball before it entered touch but was unable to do so, his fingers glancing off the material and handing the line-out to Agen.

The hosts, however, regained possession and the TOP 14 side found themselves defending their line.

Quins attempted to keep momentum going but passing became sloppy as a result and a long pass from Smith ended up in touch.

The visitors struggled to get into opposition territory and no sooner had they done so, advantage was awarded to the hosts. Another infringement and Smith kicked to the corner.

A failed line-out ensued; Bothma received treatment, and a scrum was awarded to the visitors. They ran the ball and then kicked for territory; Quins gathering and taking a quick line-out.

Possession changed hands with both teams attempting to run the ball wherever possible due to the unpredictable gusts of wind.

In the strongest attack from the French this game, they pushed up to the Quins’ 22. At that point, however, they lost possession and the hosts found touch just inside opposition territory.

Quins were then awarded a scrum and Ibitoye was very keen to take advantage of his starting line-up, dancing through tackles.

A good team effort saw him offload to Mike Brown who crossed the whitewash and placed the ball for the first points of the game. Smith converted: Harlequins 7 – 0 Agen (15 minutes).

The re-start was kicked deep by the French but gathered well by the hosts. A knock-on handed a scrum to the visitors still inside the host’s territory.

Quins defended their lines well and in an attempted drop-goal by the opposition, the ball was passed quickly back to the Agen flyhalf Berdeu who failed to catch it cleanly. The hosts arrived en-mass and earned a scrum.

The opportunity to clear their half was wasted as a failed scrum handed possession to the French. The team in red raced to the 22 but were once again met by staunch defence. They crept ever closer to the line but desperate tackling saw Agen forced into touch. The referee’s whistle, however, blew for a French penalty.

They opted for a line-out, gathered the ball and formed a maul. The Quins’ defence put a stop to the movement but in doing so handed them advantage from an offside position.

Berdeu lined up the posts and opened their scorecard: Harlequins 7 – 3 Agen (24 minutes).

Harlequins responded the way they needed to: Marchant and Mulchrone combining to see the scrumhalf cross the whitewash for a try. Smith again added the conversion: Harlequins 14 – 3 Agen (26 minutes).

Agen again sent the re-start ball deep but it was confidently gathered and the return kick found touch just outside the opposition 22.

The French side attempted to run from deep but Quins tackled quickly and earned a free-kick. They took this quickly and powered to within metres of the try-line, Kunatani crossing for the third try of the game, just right of the posts. Smith converted: Harlequins 21 – 3 Agen (30 minutes).

Another deep restart from the men in red; Smith gathered the high ball and found touch on the half-way line. Another sloppy line-out still saw Quins retain possession but this was soon lost during miscommunication between Brown and Marchant. Scrum to Agen.

Against the run of play, Agen fallback Tolot crossed the try-line. The conversion, from out on the wing, was pushed across the face of the posts: Harlequins 21 – 8 Agen (36 minutes).

Quins kicked off proceedings with a high ball to chase. Brown kept his eyes firmly on the ball and although it landed in French hands, his attack forced a knock-on and a scum to the hosts.

Quins gathered momentum and a failed intercept by Conduche saw Agen reduced to 14 men following the yellow card.

Smith kicked for a line-out which Agen stole. The opposition were then awarded a scrum. Quick work from the hosts wrapped up the French side, not allowing them any breathing space. Agen were pinned in their own 22. Eventually the French placed the ball in touch to bring an end to the first half.

Half-Time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 21 – 8 Agen

The second half started with disaster for Agen who had the kick-off but sent the ball straight into touch.

Within three minutes of the second-half whistle, Nathan Earle crossed the whitewash to ensure Harlequins secured their fourth try and an all important bonus point. Smith missed the conversion: Harlequins 26 – 8 Agen (42 minutes).

The wind seemingly now wanting to play a part, ushered Brown’s attempted clearance kick straight into touch without allowing any distance to it.

Agen came again.

The hosts were forced into an early substitution with Saili on for Nathan Earle, who seemingly injured his knee whilst diving for the try.

Harlequins powered through to a 5th try with Merrick crossing as part of a maul; Marcus Smith converting: Harlequins 33 – 8 Agen (50 minutes).

In an immediate response, Agen came right back and added a converted try of their own: Harlequins 33 – 15 Agen (54 minutes).

Elia then came on for Crumpton in the first of the planned changed for the hosts (55 MINUTES).

More cheers ran out from the Quins’ fans as Tapuai broke through the defensive line, only to be brought down before he could offload successfully, sending the ball forward.

Scrum to Agen in their own half but Quins overpowered the visitors and earned a kick to the corner. Successful line-out and quick movement of the ball saw them attack the far wing. Smith passed to Brown who could not cleanly gather the ball under tackle. It was deemed a knock-on by the French tackler and so Quins were handed an attacking scrum within the opposition 22.

Marler and Sinckler left the pitch to rousing applause as Boyce and Collier came in their stead (58 minutes).

Another successful scrum for the hosts. Brown crossed the whitewash but it was disallowed due to a knock-on. The referee was, however, playing advantage and so the hosts had another opportunity.

Penalty try awarded to Harlequins and another yellow card to Agen; a culmination of infringements ending with a tackle from an offside position preventing the try. Harlequins 40 – 15 Agen (62 minutes).

More Game Changers for Harlequins entered the battlefield and the hosts again broke through the defensive line but as Brown sped away with the ball, play was halted with Saili’s offload to the fallback being a forward pass.

Scrum to Agen then penalty inside the host’s half. The men in red kicked for a line-out. Despite some loose passing, the visitors maintained possession and crept closer to the whitewash. The defence stood firm, however, stole possession and kicked to ease the pressure.

Agen came again but only made it to the 22 before facing a wall of Harlequins’ bodies. A forward pass ended their run.

The reds put up a good challenge in the set-piece but Harlequins still came away with the ball, initially running with ball in hand before kicking away possession. Agen attempted a chip-over which was gathered easily by the hosts.

They kicked back allowing Agen to come again. The ball was moved around with ease by the visitors until Quins’ Kunatani put in a thumping tackle, forcing the reds to spill the ball.

Quins again gathered speed, making their way into the 22. A long pass to Marchant saw him cross the try-line with ease.

Catrakilis added the conversion: Harlequins 47 – 15 Agen (71 minutes).

Agen earned a penalty after Quins were caught wandering offside. The visitors failed to get any distance on the ball despite the wind supporting them but still maintained possession in the line-out.

Slowly they gained ground and crept to within 10 metres of the line before darting across. The conversion was added, albeit with the help of the post bouncing the ball over.

At this point Man of the Match Charlie Mulchrone left the pitch, replaced by Lewis (76 minutes).

Harlequins had the last laugh with Kunatani crossing for his second try of the game (Harlequins 8th.); conversion added: Harlequins 54 – 22 Agen (78 minutes).

Another speeding advance from Harlequins came to nothing as in their haste the ball was thrown forward.

The whistle was blown ending a successful match for Harlequins who started off their European Rugby Challenge Cup with a bonus-point win. The Twickenham-based side hoping to carry this momentum on to Grenoble next week.

Full-time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 54 – 22 Agen

Attendance: 9534

Match report: Natalie Osborne Photos: Chris Spring

Man of the Match Charlie Mulchrone spoke with Radio Jackie's Natalie Osborne after the match:

posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 11:05 pm  

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