Harlequins came from behind to defeat Gloucester 35-29 in a thrilling Guinness Premiership fixture at Twickenham Stoop.
Harlequins came from behind to defeat Gloucester 35-29 in a thrilling Guinness Premiership fixture at Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.
Both clubs entered the season with high hopes of challenging for the top four yet find themselves at the wrong end of the table. Even winning this game guaranteed no more than a shuffle up the table.
Ultimately it was the home side who ran out bonus-point victors with a swashbuckling performance.
Quins welcomed back captain Nick Easter who missed England's three autumn internationals with a hamstring injury, while Gloucester recalled England backs Olly Morgan and James Simpson-Daniel.
It was the home team who took the initiative, Danny Care running a second minute penalty that ended up in the hands of Ugo Monye, tackled into touch by Charlie Sharples.
Gloucester then lost lock Will James to a leg injury after only five minutes. James left the field on a stretcher and was replaced by Adam Eustace.
But they responded by upping their tempo and earned their first shot at goal in the seventh minute. Freddie Burns hit the post with a kick from 35 yards, but Quins failed to clear the rebound and conceded another penalty for offside two minutes later which Burns dispatched from close range.
It was Gloucester whose ambition bore further fruit in the 14th minute.
A blur of excellent passing from midfield out to the right finished with skipper Gareth Delve pounding up the wing. Quins had two men between Delve and the line, but he barged past, and despite being hauled down from behind, managed to extend his right arm and plant the ball down. Burns missed the conversion.
Quins replied with a try on 19 minutes following a direct break by Care. Having drawn fullback Morgan, Care passed left, releasing George Lowe to accelerate clear of the cover and score between the posts.
Gloucester's second try in the 23rd minute was all about opportunism. Chasing a kick-ahead by Simpson-Daniel, Sharples kept going despite the presence of Mike Brown. The Quins fullback appeared to get a hand on the ball first as it crossed the line, but Sharples dived towards man and ball, and referee Tim Wigglesworth voted in the Gloucester wing's favour. Burns again missed the conversion.
Evans was more ruthless with the boot, kicking two goals in as many minutes.
Gloucester's panic in the face of pressure presented him with a 29th minute penalty, and he struck again to make it 13-13 90 seconds later after Gloucester had been punished for offside.
But back stormed Gloucester to regain the lead after 34 minutes when Burns re-discovered his radar to arrow home a 30 yard penalty.
All Black fly-half Evans wrapped up a rip-roaring first-half with a superb solo try that involved stepping two defenders and handing off a third. However, he missed the conversion.
Quins third try came six minutes after the break. Evans punted a penalty into touch, Tani Fuga found Easter at the back of the lineout and six passes later, a clever inside pass by Care saw Easter power through a gap to score behind the posts, Evans converting.
Within five minutes, they'd collected a four-try bonus point with a dazzling score. Care ran a tapped penalty from his own half, ripped through the Gloucester defence and the near 12,000 crowd erupted as Lowe scooted clear for his second try, converted by Evans.
Nick Robinson reduced the deficit for Gloucester with a close-range penalty after 54 minutes, and their hopes rose further when lock James Percival was sin-binned for ball-killing. Gloucester took a scrum from the penalty, and when a long-range pass was aimed wide to the right, Sharples scored his second try of an astonishing battle. Robinson converted to make it 32-26.
Evans brought his personal tally to 20 points with a penalty on 29 minutes, only for Robinson to again reduce the arrears with a 75th minute goal.
Tries: Lowe 2, Evans, Easter
Con: Evans 3
Pen: Evans 3
Tries: Delve, Sharples 2
Pen: Burns 2, Robinson
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 David Strettle, 13 George Lowe, 12 Nils Mordt, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter (c), 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Tom Guest, 5 George Robson, 4 James Percival, 3 John Andress, 2 Tani Fuga, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Aston Croall, 18 Mark Lambert, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Neil Mcmillan, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Tom Williams.
Gloucester: 15 Olly Morgan, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 James Simpson-Daniel, 12 Tim Molenaar, 11 Tom Voyce, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Gareth Delve (capt), 7 Jake Boer, 6 Peter Buxton, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Will James, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Paul Doran-Jones, 18 Pierre Capdevielle, 19 Adam Eustace, 20 Akapusi Qera, 21 Jordi Pasqualin, 22 Nicky Robinson, 23 Lesley Vainikolo
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth