Harlequins stunned the rest of Europe with arguably the biggest result of the club's history in the south-west of France yesterday. Inside the Gaelic cauldron of Le Stadium, where Toulouse were unbeaten in 30 games, Quins overcame the odds with a display of sheer guts and ruthless efficiency.
Mike Brown scored in either half and hooker Joe Grey also touched down while the unerring boot of Nick Evans kicked 16 points to secure a "special" result for Quins. Last season they broke the dominance of Munster at Thomond Park on their way to lifting the Amlin Challenge Cup. However this result, following defeat to the same opponents the previous week at The Stoop, proved even more remarkable. Not only did they outscore their opponents three tries to two – Toulouse scored through Jean-Marc Doussain and Yoann Maestri – but their back row outplayed French captain, and recently crowned World Player of the Year, Thierry Dusautoir in his own back yard.
At times, the defending was desperate – twice Toulouse crossed the line but were prevented from grounding the ball – and the resilience and character of Quins could never be doubted.
"I'm very proud of all the guys and it's a great day for the club. To come here to face a team like this, with the players they have and win is special," Captain Chris Robshaw said. "We knew this was a do-or-die situation after losing at home last week. In that first game, we were probably in awe of Toulouse and the names in their team but this time we gave everything we had.
"It would have been easy to cave in during the second half. They got momentum and got on top of us, but we stuck in and showed some real character. Everyone played for each other. In the past, perhaps we haven't had the squad to match teams like Toulouse but we brought on some young players who were eager to impress. It's a great time to be part of this club right now.
"Last season we were totally focused on getting into the Heineken Cup. We've shown here that we're not just here to make up the numbers. This result has really put us up there and first thing now is to qualify for the last eight."
Toulouse remain top of Pool Six, though now by only a point, ahead of Harlequins, who have inadvertently revived Gloucester's slim hopes of qualification.
Hence Quins director of rugby Conor O'Shea was eager to sound a note of caution on an otherwise rapturous evening in France. "Right now this feels like we've won a cup final but we have to make sure we keep learning," O'Shea said. "We learned from what happened at the Stoop last week and this time we got our defence right. That forced them into mistakes. Tom Williams came off the bench and produced a game-changing moment that got us right back into the game when we needed it most."
Quins had already produced heroics, first George Robson on William Servat, then Brown on Clerc and Robshaw to deny Servat again, before Williams changed the game. No sooner had Doussain, who took over the kicking from Luke McAlister, put Toulouse ahead 19-15 than 5ft 7in Williams weighed in with a bone-crunching hit and steal from Clerc, which led to Easter sending Brown over for his second try.
Quins had been under the pump but had weathered the storm and struck a classic counter-attack blow of their own. It was to prove telling as, even with the loss of Easter to the sin bin, Evans held his nerve to kick Quins to victory.
In a bizarre twist, Will Skinner was red-carded, while on the replacements bench, by referee Alain Rolland for infering with play to prevent Toulouse taking a lineout in the dying moments of a remarkable game.
Scorers: Toulouse: Tries Y Maestri, J Doussain Conversion J Doussain Penalties L McAlister, J Doussain 3. Harlequins: Tries M Brown 2, J Gray Conversions N Evans 2 Penalties N Evans 4.
Toulouse M Medard; V Clerc, Y David (F Fritz, 23), Y Jauzion, T Matanavou; L McAlister, J Doussain; Y Montes (D Human, 41), W Servat (G Botha, 61), C Johnston (J Poux, 61), R Millo-Chluski, Y Maestri (G Lamboley, 68), J Bouilhou (Y Nyanga, 49), T Dusautoir (capt), S Sowerby (L Picamoles, 61).
Harlequins M Brown; S Stegmann (T Williams, 61), M Hopper, T Casson, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; M Lambert, J Gray (C Brooker, 53), J Johnston, T Vallejos, G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), W Skinner (L Wallace, 46), N Easter.
Referee A Rolland (Ireland). Attendance 32,000.