Nick Evans, a Kiwi who would be playing for his country but for a certain Dan Carter, dropped one of the most remarkable goals in Heineken Cup history. Harlequins have not conquered Europe but the London club – so long regarded as city slickers without a real backbone – have become the first team to complete the double over Stade Français. And what a double it was.
In torrential rain this match turned out to be a classic of its kind, Evans dropping the winning goal deep into injury time after a phenomenal 28 phases of play as Harlequins simply refused to concede. Juan Martin Hernandez had appeared to have kicked Stade to victory with a drop goal that made it 17-16 in the 72nd minute, but they reckoned without Evans. Twice he was lined up for drop goal shots and twice he chose to run. But not the third time, as the match entered its 83rd minute.
"It was the ugliest drop goal I've ever, ever had in my life," Evans said. But winning ugly can be beautiful. While Quins are now virtually certain to reach the knockout stage, Stade face the humiliation of elimination.
Quins got off to an excellent start, winning the first penalty. Evans obliged but the rest of the first quarter was dominated by Noel Oelschig, Stade's South African scrum-half. He levelled the scores with a penalty in the fifth minute and four minutes later he scored the first try of the match when Quins lost control of a line-out inside their 22. From the resultant scrum Oelschig weaved outside and inside and despite a hint of obstruction confused the home back row not once but twice on his way to the line. His conversion hit the post.
A few minutes later the Quins wing Ugo Monye said something to the referee and a penalty was reversed. Oelschig kicked it and Stade were 11-3 up. The steam from the forwards really began to hit the night air.
The Quins scrum-half Danny Care 1hurled Oelschig to the ground with a tackle that bordered on the venomous. Cue the two No 9s going at it like a couple of terriers, and then most of the forwards joined in.
If the French club had enjoyed a purple – or even pink – patch, it was now the turn of Quins. Evans landed his second penalty and then the home forwards drove over the line. A seven-pointer went for a burton because of a knock on, but Quins could not be held at bay for much longer.
Going against the obvious tactics on a foul night, they conjured a great try straight through the heart of the Stade defence, the half-backs working the centre Jordan Turner-Hall through a gap. Quins' lead was short-lived. Oelschig kicked another penalty to put Stade 14-13 up.
Quins were then presented with a penalty virtually in front of the posts but before Evans could put his tee down Care put in a cross-kick to the left flank. It wasn't a bad idea but Monye, in plenty of space, knocked on. In the horrendous conditions it was understandable.
Quins took the lead when Evans kicked his third penalty shortly after the re-start. The war of attrition got heavier and heavier, as did the pitch. The rain never relented and nor did the players. It was nothing if not heavy duty and the commitment from both teams was remarkable. It came down to the drop-goal merchants and Quins had the match-winner.
Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, G Tiesi (D Barry, 70), J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; C Jones, T Fuga, M Ross, J Percival (G Robson, 57), J Evans, C Robshaw, N Easter, W Skinner (capt).
Stade Français: JM Hernandez; M Gasnier, S Glas, B Leibenberg, Mirco Bergamasco; G Bousses (M Bastareaud, 59), N Oelschig; R Roncero (D Attoub, 65), D Swarzewski (M Blin, 59), S Marconnet, A Marchois, P Vigouroux (P Rabadan, 50), S Parisse (capt), J Leguizamon, Mauro Bergamasco.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).Reuse content