|Harlequins (7) 52|
|Tries: Lynagh 2, Esterhuizen, Northmore, Collier, Green, Smith, Dombrandt Cons: Smith 6|
|Bristol (24) 24|
|Tries: Joyce, Purdy, Piutau Cons: Sheedy 3 Pen: Sheedy|
Two tries from Louis Lynagh helped champions Harlequins stage a thrilling comeback victory against Bristol.
First-half tries from Joe Joyce, Henry Purdy and Charles Piutau had given Bristol an early 21-0 lead.
Lynagh hit back but a Callum Sheedy penalty made it 24-7 at half-time.
Yet Quins came out revived with Lynagh, Andre Esterhuizen, Luke Northmore, Will Collier, Tyrone Green, Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt crossing to score 45 unanswered points in the second half.
The last time the two teams met, in last season’s semi-final, Bristol threw away a 28-point lead and head coach Pat Lam had said his side had suffered no psychological scars from that match.
Indeed, Bristol withheld early Quins pressure as they saw two potential tries ruled out for a forward pass and for being held up.
When Bristol then won a scrum, from a Quins put-in in front of the posts, it was as if a light switched on and the home side were stunned by a series of rapid tries.
A clever piece of play by Harry Randall opened the scoring with a pick and go, breaking through the Quins defence to set up Jake Kerr. Kerr came within a roll of the line, before Joyce took the ball over.
Purdy got the second minutes later, as Bristol dragged the Quins defence out of line. With an overlap of players on the outside, Purdy skipped past, made a dummy and stepped inside and over.
Piutau crossed for the third, on 25 minutes, as Bristol worked the ball through the ruck across the field.
Lynagh pulled one back for Quins before half-time, as the Italian-born 20-year-old palmed the ball over in the right corner, before a Sheedy penalty made it 24-7 at half-time.
History however, was to repeat itself and, just as in June, Quins came out firing in the second-half scoring seven tries to Bristol’s zero.
Lynagh added his second – also his fifth of the season – in a neat one-two with Esterhuizen, before the South African went over in the right corner thanks to a Dombrandt offload.
With Bristol captain Heenan sent to the sin-bin, Northmore secured the bonus point and gave the home side the lead for the first time, as the floodgates stayed open.
Prop Collier scored his first Premiership try after 134 matches, scooping the ball up from the breakdown to make a darting run.
Green pushed the score to 38 points after an excellent cross-field kick before Smith, on as an injury replacement in his first appearance of the season, chased down his own kick through the tiniest of gaps to touch down.
Dombrant intercepted a Sheedy pass to complete the Quins champagne celebrations, and leave Bristol again wondering quite how the match they were in control of had run away from them.
Harlequins senior coach Tabai Matson told BBC Radio London:
“It was a game of two halves, but we don’t want to be 21-0 down, that’s not the game plan.
“But we find a way. The guys recalibrated at half-time, they knew they had to defend a bit better and take the opportunities.
“We knew we were creating enough on the balance of the first half as they had been clinical in all three of their visits to our 22.
“But nobody expected us to respond in quite the way we did. However, this team has been doing this all last year, so they know they can.
“This level of positivity is exciting, we knew it would be a high-octane game of rugby, but I certainly didn’t expect that.”
Bristol head coach Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:
“It’s the same thing again that we’ve talked about, we’ve got to keep possession. And when we had possession that was the whole plan, you would have seen we started keeping the ball because they’re a dangerous side.
“It was working really well, but just before half-time we were 21-0 and suddenly we scored and then we kicked the ball back to them. And we’re like, ‘why did we do that?’ and they scored a try.
“We talked about it at half-time, we said, ‘fellas, no fear, keep doing what we trained and what we said’. The other area we talked about was because we’re going to keep the ball, they’ll come hard, is the breakdown.
“So first of all we kicked some ball away again out of system, then we got killed again at the breakdown. Every time we tried to breakdown, it gave momentum to them, slowed the game, and they got ball.
“Once they got ball we knew they were dangerous, because they are. The way they play is fantastic, but we needed to play, which is what we did in the first half and we couldn’t do in the second half because of that.”
Harlequins: Green; Lynagh, Marchant, Esterhuizen, Murley; Allan, Care; Marler, Walker, Kerrod, Symons, Lamb, Lawday, Kenningham, Dombrandt (capt).
Replacements: Riley, Baxter, Collier, Tizard, J Chisholm, Steele, Smith, Northmore.
Bristol: C Piutau; Purdy, O’Conor, Bedlow, Adeolokun; Sheedy, Randall; Y Thomas, Kerr, Sinckler, Joyce, Holmes, Vui, Heenan (capt), Harding.
Replacements: Thacker, Woolmore, Lahiff, Hughes, D Thomas, Uren, Lloyd, Leiua.
Sin bin: Heenan (51 mins).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU).
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