Harlequins have been on an upward curve since their successive Heineken Cup losses in October and they carried that good form back into Europe to blow apart a fancied Racing Metro side yesterday.
The bonus-point win here has propelled Harlequins back into contention for a quarter-final spot, and another fruitful outing at The Stoop next weekend will have Conor O’Shea’s men going into the January outings against Clermont and Scarlets with a lot to play for.
The English clubs may be pulling out of the Heineken Cup but Harlequins showed yesterday what the competition will be missing next season as an expensive Racing Metro side were taken apart.
They moved the match to Nantes and brought a crowd of over 29,000 with them, but they seemed to leave the basics behind in Paris as sloppy handling, dreadful kicking and schoolboy tackling was no match for a Quins side who kept it simple but effective throughout.
Nick Evans kicked for territory when it was required and they were devastating when they put the ball through the hands, with Matt Hopper, Mike Brown and Sam Smith dangerous from deep, while George Robson was thunderous up front in a pack which didn’t take a backward step all evening. The net result was a facile win for Harlequins, with Racing never threatening to come back from a 17-3 interval deficit.
Harlequins laid out their stall early against a Racing side who struggled to get up to the pace being set by O’Shea’s team and the only surprise was that it took until the 20th minute for the visitors to hit the front.
Evans’ influence on the game had been increasing and it was a superb step inside Alex Dumoulin and Wenceslas Lauret which created the opening for the out-half through the middle and he brushed past full-back Juan Martin Hernandez to score under the posts.
He added the routine conversion and Racing Metro were further rattled when his opposite number Benjamin Dambielle, preferred to Jonathan Sexton at out-half, sent the restart directly to touch, a mistake he repeated when Quins got in for their second try.
That came after 31 minutes when Mike Brown and Danny Care combined to send Nick Easter barging through and he escaped Dambielle’s tackle to touchdown.
Evans, who had added a 21st-minute penalty from the right, made no mistake with the conversion to push Harlequins 17-0 in front.
Evans kept Racing penned back with some excellent kicking from the hand and their only threat of a try was a good run by Marc Andreu which ended with a grubber which yielded nothing.
Racing pulled back a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Dambielle landed a penalty from 45 metres on the right, but that was his final act as Sexton was introduced at the break.
But the Parisians just could not get a foothold in the match. Evans increased Harlequins lead with a 40-metre penalty four minutes after the restart and shortly afterwards any notion of a French revival was dismissed.
Hernandez failed to deal with a high kick 35 metres from his own line and the ball bounced kindly for Charlie Walker who collected it and sprinted down the right wing to score. Evans converted from the touchline to make it 27-3.
A superb high Sexton crosskick almost put Juan Imhoff in at the left corner but such moments were far and few between from Racing Metro.
They did manage to get over just short of the hour off a line-out take by Camille Gerondeau which ended with Bernard Le Roux getting the touchdown, but that was their last score as Sexton’s conversion from the right went narrowly wide of the left post.
Racing drafted in Mike Phillips, and the Welsh and Lions star showed great hands to collect a poor pass and counter at speed, but Quins snuffed out the danger.
After that it became a matter of Harlequins trying to get the bonus point an while a couple of line-out drives on the right failed to yield the fourth try, they were rewarded ten minutes from the end on the other side of the field.
Racing were unable to contain the drive from a line-out and it was replacement scrum-half Karl Dickson who got the touchdown to secure what could yet be a decisive point for Harlequins.
Now the focus will switch to The Stoop next weekend and O’Shea said afterwards that he expects Racing to hit back. “There will be a backlash, it is only half-time in this contest. But we are pleased, we played good rugby and got the result but we need to back it up next weekend and give ourselves a chance in the final two games in the pool in January. But we are pleased with this performance,” he said.
Racing Metro: JM Hernandez; B Fall, F Estebanez, A Dumoulin, M Andreu (J Imhoff, 39); B Dambielle (J Sexton 40), M Machenaud (M Phillips, 62); E Ben Arous (D Khinchagishvili, 47), D Szarzewski (V Lacombe, 62), L Ducalcon (B Mujati, 47, Ducalcon, 51)); F van der Merwe (K Fhzal, 22-28, 68), J Kruger; W Lauret, B Le Roux, J Nailiko (C Gerondeau, 47)).
Harlequins: M Brown; C Walker, M Hopper (B Botica, 69), T Casson (T Molenaar, 42), S Smith; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson, 70); J Marler (M Lambert, 70), D Ward, W Collier (P Doran Jones, 56); C Matthews (N Kennedy, 56), G Robson; L Wallace, C Robshaw, N Easter.
Referee: L Hodges (Wales).