Staunton's late misses cost Quins first win

Harlequins 23 - Castres 23
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The Independent Online

Oh, how Harlequins will be kicking themselves and Jeremy Staunton wishing he had managed to kick one of the two penalties he missed in the final 10 minutes, when the scores were tied and Castres were reduced to 14 men.

Paul Volley, the former Wasp, was absent having received a yellow card for one ruck infringement too many and Quins were camped in Castres territory, and yet they failed to muster a single point.

Two potential drop-goals were ignored and the draw, though Quins' best result of a dismal season, consigned them to Heineken Cup purgatory as their chances of qualifying are now realistically non-existent. Castres, however, are sitting pretty with a good win against the Neath-Swansea Ospreys and now an away draw.

Quite how Quins failed to win is almost unfathomable and the best answer is probably that eight consecutive defeats have left their confidence fragile and their belief damaged.

Not that the Quins coach, Mark Evans, saw it that way. "I thought we were comfortably the stronger team," he said. "He [the referee] didn't penalise collapsing the maul. I felt we should have had a penalty try in the final 10 minutes and when one team is scrummaging the other off the park, you expect some reward."

Which ignores the fact that the Quins centre Will Greenwood firmly stated that "we had enough penalties at the end and should have nicked it".

Quins' lack of confidence was a crucial factor, and contributed to some errors. For example, conceding a try two minutes after having scored one in the 52nd minute was more than a tad careless. But there had also been glimpses of panache and style. Both tries were laced with aggressive running, incisive angles and neat passing. Daffyd James finished both, although he was merely the beneficiary of others' work.

The first, in the seventh minute, was started on the halfway line by the full-back Tom Williams. He slipped a weak tackle by Richard Dourthe and was off, checking the covering wing and allowing Simon Keogh the inside. Excellent support by Andre Vos provided the continuity and James was left a five-yard walk-in.

For the second Greenwood stepped inside his man and released the ball from the tackle to gift James another easy score. More importantly, the possession had come from a stolen line-out, which is exactly the kind of play that good sides make. And Quins did make them, so not to win was almost unforgivable.

Their nemesis was Dourthe. He kicked six penalties and provided the break that set up a try for Brad Fleming in the 54th minute. His efforts won him man-of-the-match but it was a curate's egg of a performance because he also conceded penalties, missed a crucial tackle on Williams and flirted with a yellow-card for a swinging arm in the first half.

The other major factor was the loss of Vos in the 38th minute. Trapped at the bottom of a ruck having caught a line-out to the tail, he was prone on the turf for three minutes and then hobbled for another couple before being removed. Until then he had dominated the fringes and tackle area and made a number of crunching tackles.

Another area where Quins stuttered was in getting the ball away from the tackle area quickly and the blame for that lies with the scrum-half, Steve So'oialo. Reluctant to pass off his left hand, he spent precious moments positioning his body to allow him his favourite pass and then taking two steps before releasing the ball proved slow and cumbersome.

Whatever their technical faults, the mind is probably what Quins need to conquer now. A curious and demanding beast, when it is controlled it wins games like this.

Harlequins: T Williams (G Duffy, 66); G Harder, W Greenwood, D James, S Keogh; J Staunton, S So'oialo; M Worsley, T Fuga, C Jones, R Winters, S Miall, N Easter, T Diprose, A Vos (capt; L Sheriff, 36).

Castres: U Mola; B Fleming, R Dourthe, M Denney, B Lhande (D Bory, 40); Y Delaigue, A Albouy, J Fitzpatrick (M Reggiardo, 75), M Ledesma ( capt), A Galasso, R Capo Ortega, N Spanghero (D Barrier, 60), R Froment (G Benard, 60), P Volley, A Bias.

Referee: D Changleng (Scotland).