Harlequins staged a sensational comeback to reach their first Premiership Final since 2012 after coming from 28-0 down to defeat Bristol Bears in extra time.
In a sensational match at Ashton Gate, Bears raced into a 28-0 lead in as many minutes. However, Harlequins staged the most amazing comeback the Premiership has ever seen to send the game into extra time. Joe Marchant bagged his second try of the afternoon to book Quins final appearance next week against Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham.
When these sides met in the league back in the regular season at Ashton Gate both sides served up a classic, with Kyle Sinckler’s injury time winner enough for a Bears 35-33 win.
In a game that produced sheer drama and entertainment for over 110 minutes with 12 tries scored, seven of which from Quins, this epic contest had everything.
Bristol settled the better of the two sides in the early exchanges with two Callum Sheedy penalties putting Bristol on the board first. In the eighth minute following a wonderful break from Charles Piutau who set up Ben Earl to touch down in the corner. Piutau was at the heart of the action again to feed Max Mallins who dotted down.
Harlequins penalty count was going against them as Bristol powered forward at every opportunity. From a scrum, Mallins went over in the corner then turned provider for Luke Morahan to pirouette over, with the conversion Bears had raced into a 28-0 lead in as many minutes.
After half an hour Quins thought they had their first points on the board when Tyrone Green’s try was disallowed after a last-ditch tackle from Moraham denied the visitors. But on the stroke of half-time the Premiership’s leading points scorers finally got their first points of the game when Alex Dombrandt picked up a loose ball to run into the corner. The conversion from Marcus Smith was successful to give something for the Londoners to cling on to heading into the second half.
How those points gave Harlequins a huge lift with Quins looking a completely different side after the interval. Within two minutes Danny Care’s quick tap and go was rewarded with Green going over. Another loose ball wasn’t deal with by Bristol with James Chisholm reacting quickest to cross. From a lineout a powerful break from Dombrandt found Louis Lynagh going over in the corner. Despite Smith missing the extras, Quins had reduced the deficit to just two points at 28-24.
Bristol desperately needed to put some sort of points on the board and steady the ship after 19 unanswered points from the visitors. The visitors were penalised for offside with Sheedy slotting over a long-range penalty to push the home side ahead by seven points.
Harlequins responded with Green going over, but the try was ruled out for a forward pass. With five minutes remaining Bristol were carved apart again when Smith and Green put Marchant away down the right. Smith held his nerve ten metres in from the sideline to knock over the conversion and send the game into extra time.
A Sheedy penalty struck the post before an attacking scrum saw Green go over for his second try of this crazy match. With Bristol needing two score to snatch victory. They got the first when Mallins bagged his hat-trick to reduce the gap, but for the second time in added time Sheedy’s kick hit the post, leaving Bristol two points adrift.
It was down to Marchant to settle the nerves of Quins when the centre ran in for his second try of the game. There was still more drama to come when the TMO was called into action for the possibility of a high tackle in the build-up. After consultation with the tmo, Wayne Barnes deemed the tackle legal with Harlequins players, management and fans celebrating a most remarkable turnaround they and the rugby world has ever seen.
Bristol Bears 36 Harlequins 43 after extra time
Gallagher Premiership semi-final Saturday 19th June 202
By Peter Moore