Harlequins and Cardiff Blues battled to a 13-13 draw in an often messy Heineken Cup game at the Stoop on Saturday.
Truth be told, this was a poor encounter. The passion may have been there in spades but the basic skill levels were nowhere to be found. From as little as the third minute when Chris Malone missed his first of three drop goals, one got the impression it was not going to be the spectacle it had promised.
The Blues, who are being tipped as a dark horses this year, showed there were no lights on upstairs with a display that left Dai Young seething. And yet it could have been so different, yet countless attacking platforms were wasted through elementary errors.
For their part, Quins were not too much better, the odd moment of individual magic aside, and will rue a missed opportunity. Had it not been for Andy Gomarsall's miscalculation they may well have snatched a late victory, one that in all fairness they deserved. For it was they who dominated the bulk of the game, yet they were unable to make their pressure tell.
It was the boot of Malone that set them on their way with a simple sixth-minute penalty, a lead which the Quins should have built upon. With Malone directing proceedings from fly-half the Blues were struggling to gain any sort of holding in the game.
Sensing they had a chance to put the Blues to the sword, Quins failed to capitalise, and actually let the Blues back into it through a succession of needless penalties. The third in as many minutes allowed Ben Blair to send over a well-angled kick to level the scores at three apiece.
Half-time could not come soon enough for either coach as they watched their charges fumble their way around the pitch.
But Dean Richards would have been the happier of the two as he witnessed a try from England number eight Nick Easter just before the break. Serious questions will be asked of the Blues line-out defence, given that Easter jumped, claimed, returned to terra firma and had time to turn and rumble over from five metres out. Malone converted from an acute angle to lift the home side.
The game was there for either side to control, instead they were more concerned wrestling each other in the tight exchanges. The error count may have dropped somewhat but with it went the little excitement on show.
Slowly the Blues came out of their shells and chanced their arm, and in turn so did the Quins. Mike Brown, the fresh-faced Quins full-back, came into his own with the high ball and chase. On three occasions he soared highest to claim and launch dangerous raids into Blues territory, only to see his good work undone by a bumbling forward.
Blair hauled the Blues to within four points with his second penalty before adding a conversion to Jason Spices opportunist try. Malone failed to find touch with a hurried clearance kick allowing Tom James to beat three defenders before slipping it inside to Spice who surged through a weak tackle to go over.
As is so often the case, the team who have just scored are the most vulnerable, as was the case here. No sooner had they established a three-point lead the Blues had to watch Malone level things up. Both sides looked to win the game late on, but neither could keep hold of the ball long enough to do so.
Given a late chance it seemed as if Quins would snatch it, yet with Malone deep in the pocket Gomarsall opted to dummy and sneak a few more yards. The plan sounded good, the reality was a dummy and an accidental offside.
With an opening-day defeat it was not the best result for Quins, but they still have a faint chance, where as the Blues will feel they escaped with a valuable two points that could have so easily been just the one.
Pens: Malone 2
For Cardiff Blues:
Pens: Blair 2
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Simon Keogh, 13 David Strettle, 12 De Wet Barry, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Chris Malone, 9 Andy Gomarsall, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Paul Volley (c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Jim Evans, 4 Ollie Kohn, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Tani Fuga, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Ricky Nebbett, 18 James Percival, 19 Chris Hala'ufia, 20 Steven So'oialo, 21 Adrian Jarvis, 22 Tosh Masson.
Cardiff Blues: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Tom James, 13 Jamie Robinson, 12 Tom Shanklin, 11 Gareth Thomas, 10 Dai Flannagan, 9 Jason Spice, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Mamma Molitika, 5 Paul Tito, 4 Deiniol Jones, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 John Yapp, 17 Gareth Williams, 18 Robert Sidoli, 19 Scott Morgan, 20 Robin Sowden-Taylor, 21 Tal Selley, 22 Rhys Williams.
Referee: Joël Jutge (France)
Touch judges: Jean-Luc Rebollal (France), Eric Campin Briquet (France)
Television match official: Gérard Borreani (France)