Not many English banners will fly in either European competition when the quarter-finals arrive in April but George Lowe made certain that Harlequins will be among them. Two tries by the young centre helped earn a home quarter-final in the Amlin Challenge Cup. The visitors could be Clermont Auvergne, the French champions.
Harlequins have enjoyed a remarkable reversal in fortunes since the autumn. They place significant value on this second-tier European tournament; they are fourth in the Aviva Pemiership; and they fly to Abu Dhabi next weekend for an LV Cup match against Wasps.
"This has been a really good night for us," said Conor O'Shea, their director of rugby. "We learned a lesson in the first half, when we expected things to happen, but our reaction afterwards, four tries to nil, was fabulous."
As an exercise in self-destruction, Harlequins could not have done much better in the first half. They had a wonderful start, when they heeled against the head at a scrum on halfway and Nick Evans, all insouciance, swayed through the defence for the try. But that was overturned in the succeeding 35 minutes.
Bayonne proved elusive foes. They play an unconstructed game which has taken the likes of Toulon and Castres by surprise in the Top 14; they put pace on the ball and, like all half-decent French clubs, possess a goal-kicking scrum-half – Cédric Garcia, who punished a variety of home offences here.
The scrum was a notable area of contention, though it had little to do with Bayonne taking the lead with a try of their own. Quick hands stretched the Harlequins defence and Ross Filipo, one of two All Blacks in the French club's match squad, was shunted over the line.
Perceptive runs by Will Skinner and Lowe were wasted by Quins colleagues unable to catch the ball so it was appropriate that Lowe, who has come such a long way in so short a time, should have made amends just after the interval. Two tries in eight minutes gave Harlequins the security they had lacked for so long.
Lowe's first suggested stern words in the changing room at half-time, coming as it did within 40 seconds of the restart. Tom Casson created room and Lowe stepped out of two tackles to score. His second try came from a telling pass by Casson that put him outside his marker and clear, the conversions putting daylight – well, floodlight – between the teams.
Lowe improved the shining hour by stripping Gareth Ziegler of the ball as Bayonne flooded forward and even when they were reduced to 14 men, after the prop Joe Marler was sent to the sin-bin, Quins held out. Better still, Evans broke from his own half and Ugo Monye finished in the style of a Lion. In the final minute, Evans created a fifth try, for Sam Smith.
Harlequins: T Williams; S Smith, G Lowe (R Clegg, 71), T Casson (G Camacho, 71), U Monye; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson, 63); J Marler (R Buchanan, 76), C Brooker (J Gray, 52), M Lambert (J Andress, 52), O Kohn (T Vallejos, 59; M Fa'asavalu, 71), G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), N Easter, W Skinner.
Bayonne: P Elhorga (capt; J Audy, 41); Y Huget, T Lacroix, S Gerber, J Pietersen; S Fauque (G Ziegler, 66), C Garcia (B Boyet, 49); P Lafond (W Desmaison, 52), D Roumieu (F da Ros, 49), C Baiocco (T Lea'aetoa, 49), R Filipo, A Boutaty (G Bernad, 52), D Haare (T Flavell, 54), J Puricelli, R Martin.
Referee: J Jones (Wales).Reuse content