Andy Gomarsall, one of the unlikeliest heroes of England's World Cup campaign – this time last year he was unemployed – had no sooner returned to club action than he found his judgement being questioned.
Harlequins, who helped to revive Gomarsall's career after an acrimonious exit from Worcester, were in the dying seconds of this must-win match against the Cardiff Blues at The Stoop and the plan appeared simple enough. They would set up a series of drives and rucks to get into shooting position and Chris Malone would deliver the winning drop goal. It didn't happen for a variety of reasons but the most obvious was that Gomarsall didn't give the crucial pass to Malone.
"We couldn't have asked for a better position and we should have just dropped the goal," Dean Richards, Quins' director of rugby, said. "Afterwards Gomarsall held his hands up. It should have gone."
The England scrum-half saw it rather differently. "I saw a bunch of Cardiff players bearing down on Molly [Malone] so I dummied and went for a gap," he said. It might have worked but the referee, Pascal Gauzere, ruled that Gomarsall had run into one of his own players and ordered the last shambolic scrum of the match to the visitors.
"The only bloke I made contact with was a Cardiff prop," Gomarsall said. "The referee got it wrong. Perhaps I should have passed to Molly but to tell you the truth I'd have probably done the same thing again."
There was no guarantee Malone would have hit the target. The Australian had missed with three drop-goal attempts, the third of which missed by a mile when he had all the time in the world. He also failed with an angled penalty attempt from around the Cardiff 22.
Why on earth did Quins, having signed Andrew Mehrtens when they were relegated two years ago, let him go? Why, on Saturday, when the stalemate needed to be broken, did they not bring fresh blood off the bench? Perhaps Richards doesn't have much faith in his replacements but the fact is Quins have a habit of tiring in the last quarter in the absence of new players.
They were all over the Blues in the first half-hour, at least their forwards were, but the score stayed at 3-3. A minute before the interval the Blues could not defend a line-out from which Nick Easter burst through to the line. It had been an awful first half.
A second Ben Blair penalty made it 10-6 but on the hour Dai Flannigan's chip led to the Blues' try, although it shouldn't have. It was caught and marked by Ugo Monye, who crashed into an upright as he did so. But for the Heineken padding around the post he would probably be waking up in a hospital this morning. He should have tapped the ball and given it to a specialist kicker; instead he failed to find touch and the impressive Tom James made a break down the right touchline before giving an inside pass for Jason Spice to score.
A Malone penalty levelled it at 13-13 and this remained the unlucky scoreline for Quins who, having lost to Stade Français in Paris, are dead in the water. The Blues are still very much afloat, with seven points, but they have to visit Stade next month and without a dominant front five and a kicking game their chances aren't great.
"There was a lot riding on this game and perhaps that's why neither side played to their potential," said Dai Young, the Blues coach.
Harlequins: Try Easter; Conversion Malone; Penalties Malone 2. Cardiff Blues: Try Spice; Conversion Blair; Penalties Blair 2.
Harlequins: M Brown; S Keogh, D Strettle, De Wet Barry, U Monye; C Malone, A Gomarsall; C Jones, T Fuga, M Ross, O Kohn, J Evans, C Robshaw, P Volley (capt), N Easter.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; T James, J Robinson, T Shanklin, G Thomas; D Flannigan, J Spice; G Jenkins, R Thomas (G Williams, 65), T Filise, D Jones, P Tito (R Sidoli, 71), M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush (capt).
Referee: P Gauzere(France).Reuse content