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It is an understatement to say Harlequins do not always make life easy for themselves but another of their trademark comebacks, inspired by Joe Marchant, sealed the champions’ place in the playoffs and boosted their hopes of a return to Twickenham next month.
Take nothing away from Gloucester’s first-half performance – Harlequins were 17 points down at half-time because the visitors were superior in practically every department – but once they got on a roll and Danny Care and Marcus Smith started to play with the zip they so often do, the visitors capitulated. Harlequins scored three tries after the break, Gloucester failed to register a single point.
Marchant scored two of those and was on song throughout. He was left out of the most recent England squad and though Eddie Jones chose to rest a number of established players, it is unclear whether the 25-year-old can be considered one of those, or simply omitted. The Harlequins coach, Tabai Matson, said: “He was phenomenal again. He does an amazing job for us. I’m not sure what [England’s] long-term view around selection is. They want different things from players but against France I thought he was the best player on the field that day. He can be a world class centre, play wing, play full-back. He’s a really balanced athlete.”
In addition to Marchant’s second-half double, Cadan Murley scored the fourth and vital try which edged Harlequins in front with 12 minutes remaining – adding to Alex Dombrandt’s first-half effort. It was not vintage Harlequins and they will have to sharpen up if they are to retain their crown, but their prospects are considerably brighter than at half-time here. “One of the things I love about this team is that if there’s time on the clock then they believe they can score,” added Matson.
Gloucester had not won here on seven previous visits – a run dating back to 2003 – and they set about breaking that streak from the moment they barged Harlequins’ driving maul into touch in the first minute. They were dominant at the breakdown and went in at the interval three tries to one ahead. The first came from Ben Morgan at the back of a driving maul – such a powerful weapon for Gloucester this season.
Harlequins responded shortly afterwards – a suicidal pass from Ruan Ackermann went straight to Danny Care and Dombrandt went over next to the posts. Gloucester were undeterred and regained the lead through Freddie Clarke after smart work from their fleet-footed fullback Santiago Carreras. Joe Marler was then summoned from the bench far earlier than expected but another turnover for Gloucester provided try No 3 for Chris Harris, who was teed up by the captain Lewis Ludlow, running a clever line on Adam Hastings’ inside shoulder. The Scotland fly-half added a drop-goal for good measure.
Gloucester might have been out of sight but for a remarkable covering tackle from Marchant on Ollie Thorley. Marchant then provided the breakthrough Harlequins badly needed with half an hour remaining, getting on the end of Danny Care’s grubber, and had his second and Harlequins’ third just after the hour mark, finishing off an overlap brought about by a mistake from Hastings when gathering Huw Jones’s booming kick.
Gloucester were unravelling when Louis Rees-Zammit was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on and Murley finished off another spell of pressure to put Harlequins ahead and secure the bonus point.
“A few of our lads hadn’t seen Twickenham stadium, let alone played here,” said Gloucester’s head coach, George Skivington. “I’m actually really proud. Obviously, we’re gutted. I don’t think the second half was horrendous, Quins were good but they’ve come back from far bigger deficits than that.”