Easter leads Quins in a gallop past Gloucester
Gloucester 9 Harlequins 28: England No 8 rounds off win with spectacular try to set up mouthwatering matches with Toulouse
Ordinarily a Harlequin with a Sancho Panza moustache cupping his ear sarcastically in front of The Shed would soon have to run for cover. But by the time Nick Easter performed that act in celebration of his try – Quins' third – the Gloucester support had little to fire back at him. They, like their team, were spent.
A team on a 12-match winning run are bound to be self-assured. Where Quins scored over Gloucester in this second Pool Six match for each in the Heineken Cup was in collective quality and individual decision-making. It gave Quins a win to add to their defeat of Connacht whereas Gloucester were unable to add to the bonus point they earned away to Toulouse.
Mike Tindall has tested the patience around here by getting injured when away with England. This season has been different: he went with England to the World Cup and ended up with a £25,000 fine and ejection from the national squad. That has at least left the 33-year-old free to concentrate on his club. But the absence of an errant centre of greater creativity hit Gloucester harder.
Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu sat in a hospitality box with half a dozen injured first-teamers (the full-back Olly Morgan and forwards Alex Brown and Andy Hazell among them) as the Samoan scourge of authority prepared for a career-defining disciplinary hearing at the Lensbury Club in London at 9am today. Sapolu is appealing the sanctions handed down during the World Cup for his criticism on Twitter of the International Rugby Board, Rugby World Cup and the referee Nigel Owens, including a suspended six-month playing ban.
Since that 15 October sentence, Sapolu has been banned separately by the Rugby Football Union for three weeks and it is thought that today's independent panel will have it in their power to trigger the six-month suspension. Sapolu tweeted on Friday that such panels should have a current player on them to lend perspective; a point worthy of debate. He tweeted yesterday that had Hitler been alive today he would have burned tweeters and tweets. Make of that what you will.
Lesley Vainikolo saw a lot of the ball for Gloucester in the first half, and as there is a lot to see of the 17-and-a-half-stone Vainikolo, that might have been concerning to Quins. The former England wing nearly scored when he beat three tackles soon after Quins' first try, by Mike Brown and made by Easter's charge from a line-out. But the third tackler, Nick Evans, recovered to squeeze Vainikolo into touch. At length it led to Gloucester's first points – a penalty by Freddie Burns – when Quins' tighthead, James Johnson, collapsed a scrum.
Quins moved quickly through the threequarters and varied their angles of running. A penalty each for Evans and Burns, followed by a long-range miss by Burns, had Quins 10-6 up. Two minutes before half-time, the Premiership leaders had a second try. Tomas Vallejos stole a line-out at the front and Quins went left, right and back again with Mo Fa'asavalu making a crucial few metres before Matt Hopper – a centre making his first competitive start since signing from Cornish Pirates – ducked under Akapusi Qera and Vainikolo to score. Evans's conversion hit a post: 15-6.
A gift of an offside penalty conceded by Will James from the second-half kick-off gave Evans another three points. Burns missed from 45 metres then cut Quins' lead to 18-9 after Fa'asavalu went to the sin-bin for a round-the-neck tackle on Qera. Then Burns tapped a penalty and was driven into touch, whereupon Quins showed Gloucester how to secure a defensive line-out. Another two fantastic positions cropped up for Gloucester while Fa'asavalu was off but the first, from Jonny May's counter, petered out and in the second Henry Trinder was thwarted on the line by the loosehead Joe Marler's fine tackle. "You can't coach desire and will like that," said Conor O'Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby.
Evans's third penalty made it 21-9 after James (who was immediately substituted) high-tackled Easter. The final quarter was a chase for Gloucester. But the invention of another crock, James Simpson-Daniel, was lacking and Easter's 30-metre gallop for Quins' third try, converted by Evans, finished them off. The England No 8 enjoyed his baiting of The Shed and in this fourth season of two English sides being grouped together in the Heineken Cup it is Quins who are relishing a double-header with Toulouse next month.
"Are other players quicker [than Easter]? Yes," said O'Shea. "Are there quicker brains? Not many."
Gloucester J May; C Sharples, H Trinder, M Tindall, L Vainikolo (T Voyce, 40); F Burns (T Taylor, 62), R Lawson (D Lewis, 57); N Wood (D Murphy, 70), S Lawson (D Dawidiuk, 60), R Harden (D Chistolini, 70), W James (T Savage, 59), J Hamilton, P Buxton (capt; L Narraway, 70), A Strokosch, A Qera.
Harlequins M Brown; S Stegmann, M Hopper (T Casson, 73), J Turner-Hall, S Smith; N Evans, K Dickson (D Care, 46); J Marler, J Gray (C Brooker, 57), J Johnston (T Fairbrother, 50), T Vallejos (C Matthews, 73), G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (L Wallace, 76), N Easter, C Robshaw (capt).
Referee C Berdos (France).
Pens: Burns 3
Tries: Brown, Hopper, Easter
Pens: Evans 3
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