Jonah Lomu Rugby, the cult video game that celebrated its 25th birthday this year, had a ‘classic match’ mode that immersed users in tricky situations from the past. Harlequins supporters must feel as though they have been living out similar scenarios in real-life, often on a difficult setting. Their players have become comeback connoisseurs thanks to total conviction in their attacking prowess.
A lightning start followed the script perfectly, appeasing enthusiastic home support. Marchant hared after Smith’s kick-off and forced a spill. Will Collier made a dent and Dombrandt cut a trademark angle off the shoulder of his fly-half. Huw Jones collected a well-timed pass to score. Despite tenacious defense led by Will Evans, who emerged from an opposition maul with the ball and later cut down Paul Willemse to foreshadow another turnover, Montpellier responded.
Handré Pollard had already missed a long-range penalty when his center partner, Yvan Reilhac, burrowed over from a close-range scrum. Montpellier had drawn criticism for their selection, with a crucial league encounter against Bordeaux looming next Sunday, yet exhibited the depth of their squad.
Evans, fit again following a leg break that derailed the end of last season, instigated Harlequins second by surging away from a maul. Danny Care directed some fast phase-play and Dombrandt ghosted through once more. This time, the back-rower stretched over himself.
Louis Forsans, a highly promising playmaker, converted a penalty earned by Montpellier’s scrum on the back of Julien Tisseron’s sparkling break. Then came a try that took the breath away. Mike Adamson, the referee, penalized Harlequins at the breakdown and Forsans clipped towards touch.
Care leaned over the touchline to catch and flick the ball behind his back, keeping it in-field. That allowed Smith to collect deep inside the Harlequins 22. England’s incumbent number 10 switched with André Esterhuizen, fixing at least two defenders, but sold a convincing dummy. He goose-stepped through the Montpellier chase and hitch-kicked once more when out in the open before feeding Cadan Murley. Marchant was in support to complete a hypnotic, 85-meter move.
Again, the visitors replied. Forsans located Tisseron with a delicate kick-pass and the score was back at 21-17 for the day, keeping Montpellier’s aggregate lead at 10 points. Evans and Dombrandt combined to shift the momentum once more. The former dived in for a charge-down that brought a five-meter scrum, from which the latter threw a clever cut-out pass to Lynagh.
Smith nailed the touchline conversion and Harlequins began the second period just three behind Montpellier. Edgy errors crept and Montpellier’s maul eked out a penalty that Pollard landed. With 20 minutes remaining, Zach Mercer entered the fray as a replacement for Willemse. His team of him were under immense pressure, having conceded two line-out penalties in succession. Adamson signaled for another infringement, so Harlequins opted to take a scrum five meters out.
Joe Marler and Wilco Louw splintered Montpelliler, winning two further penalties. Care tapped and Montpellier crept offside, somehow avoiding a yellow card. A third scrum assembled, and this one – a complete mess – required a re-set. At the next set piece, Harlequins were dominant and Jeremie Maurouard was sin-binned.
That brought back Guilhem Guirado with Montpellier sacrificing Pierre Lucas, their left wing. And, although they conceded yet another penalty in a labyrinthine series of scrums, Montpellier survived. Smith slipped over, yet did so after ghosting behind Jones. Adamson correctly identified obstruction.
All that meant Harlequins still needed a converted try. They did the hard part, Lynagh slicing through from Smith’s pass.