Harlequins 30 Gloucester 25: Richards' men get the Stoop rocking

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The Independent Online

With less than a minute to play in this enthralling match there was a handshake on the touchline from one Dean to another – the respective coaching chiefs, Gloucester's Ryan and Richards of Harlequins – as the league leaders conceded defeat. It was not quite Obama and Clinton but it was pretty well received, chants of "Harlequins, Harlequins" echoing from one grandstand to another and lifting the home players to punch the air when the final whistle came.

A record crowd at a ground where more improvements are in the pipeline could not have complained if Gloucester had won. It was nip and tuck all the way. Quins had the edge on territory and possession; Gloucester had the snazziest attacking talent in James Simpson-Daniel, who began on the wing, switched to the centre and showed the eye for a gap which must surely attract England's attention soon.

There was a questionable decision by Quins to kick for touch when they trailed 25-20 early in the final quarter, but it worked out fine with a penalty by their fly-half, Adrian Jarvis – their England squad scrum-half, Danny Care, was high-tackled by the visitors' replacement Mark Foster – followed by a galloping try in the 74th minute from the 22-year-old lock George Robson which brought the majority of the spectators to their feet.

Yes, something is stirring here, after relegation two-and-a-half seasons ago and a severe midwinter this time around. Enough to project Quins' young side into the top four? "We understand what's at stake," said Richards, cautiously, though he was keen to give praise to his support staff.

Clearly Quins' forwards coach, John Kingston, had spotted weaknesses in Gloucester's line-out.

Ryan was irked that his side, while knowing two or three surefire ways to score tries, could not resist trying, erroneously, to find two or three different ones. It would have hurt Iain Balshaw to hear Ryan's lengthy dissertation on a run from deep which ended with an aimless pass inside,even if it was part of an overall assessment of team failings.

At Kingsholm in November, Harlequins scored four tries inside half an hour and still lost. The teams carried on in the same vein here, in a first half of five tries, three of them to the visitors. The first came when Jarvis was charged down by his opposite number, Willie Walker, who would miss five goal-kicks. Ugo Monye's brilliant restart catch and Care's lunge made a try for the prop Ceri Jones; Balshaw scored from Peter Buxton's lobbed pass. A Walker penalty had Gloucester 15-10 ahead.

Lesley Vainikolo was used as a decoy as Simpson-Daniel ducked tackles at will for Gloucester's third and fourth tries – one finished by Anthony Allen, the other by Simpson-Daniel himself 17 minutes into the second half. Just before half-time Quins got a second try, through Mike Brown, from another clever dart by Care. It was converted by Jarvis, who levelled the scores at 20-20 with a penalty in the 54th minute.

Gloucester took two bonus points, but they will need to steady themselves if they are to carry off the Premiership or the Heineken Cup, or both.

At Welford Road, Harry Ellis, the England scrum-half who suffered a severe knee injury last season, returned to action as Leicester beat Leeds 34-21.

Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, H Luscombe(D W Barry, 70), T Masson, U Monye; A Jarvis (C Malone, 70), D Care; C Jones, T Fuga, M Ross, J Percival(G Robson, 40), N Spanghero, C Robshaw, N Easter (capt), W Skinner.

Gloucester: I Balshaw; J Simpson-Daniel, J Adams (M Foster, 40), A Allen, L Vainikolo; W Walker, R Lawson; N Wood (A Dickinson, 66), O Azam (A Titterrell, 50), C Nieto, P Buxton (capt), A Brown, A Strokosch, L Narraway (G Delve, 54), A Qera (M Bortolami, 61).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

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