This defeat, the first suffered by Harlequins in any competition this season, is in no way disastrous in the context of the Heineken Cup - Quins will qualify for the quarter-finals if they beat Caledonia on Saturday.
But the way in which their expensively assembled troops were shot down by a thoroughly focused and ultimately rampant Brive side posed a number of uncomfortable questions for Quins, the like of which had yet to crop up in their impressive early season run.
The match came to a tumultuous conclusion in the third minute of injury time when Brive added a rousing try to their determinedly built 18-point haul from penalties and dropped goals.
The left-winger Sebastien Carrat, a contender for his country's Olympic sprint squad this year, seized on a loose ball as Quins played catch-up in the Brive half, and tore clear on a 55-metre dash to the line. He left Robbie Paul clawing thin air in a vain attempt at a tap tackle and inspired a joyous invasion of the pitch by hundreds of supporters waving flags in the black and white of their beloved club.
French club rugby has its detractors, not least because some of the playing practices considered de rigueur in their domestic game are in all senses foreign to the rest of the Five Nations. But all Harlequins' new money, and the rest washing around the Courage League, could never replicate a day such as this. Upwards of 15,000 spectators were royally entertained and in turn became entertainers themselves.
It began well enough for Quins, who with a touch of swagger built a 10- point lead in the first 14 minutes. Will Carling sent a penalty soaring high through the posts and then converted a neatly worked try by his competitor for the outside-half spot, Paul Challinor.
Scrum-half Huw Harries broke cleverly on the blind side of a scrum, Jamie Williams, Laurent Cabannes and Carling set up a ruck and a short pass from Mick Watson from the next drive sent Challinor in.
Brive: Try Carrat; Penalties Lamaison 4; Drop goal Penaud, Carbonneau. Harlequins: Try Challinor; Conversion Carling; Penalty: Carling.
Brive: S Viars; G Fabre (R Paillat, 79), C Lamaison, D Venditti, S Carrat; A Penaud (capt), P Carbonneau; D Casadei, L Travers, R Crespy (E Bouti, 67-70, 79), E Allegret, T Rees (G Ross, 67), Y Domi (F Duboisset, 65), T Labrousse, G Kala.
Harlequins: J Staples (S Pilgrim, 16; D Luger, 60); J Williams, W Carling, R Paul, G Connolly; P Challinor, H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, Gareth Llewellyn, Glyn Llewellyn, B Davison, M Watson (R Jenkins, 68), L Cabannes.
Referee: B Sterling (Ireland; G Crothers, 57).Reuse content