Harlequins edge out Bordeaux in thriller to reach Champions Cup semi-final | Champions Cup


There are some daunting away venues in Europe but none more formidable this season than this atmospheric and character-laden old stadium. Factor in temperatures nudging 30C and the prospect of Harlequins enjoying a vintage quarter-final weekend in Bordeaux were supposedly on a par with a local sommelier returning from the cellar with a bottle of Chateau Twickenham.

So much for the theory, with Quins now able to toast the club’s first Champions Cup semi-final as reward for clinching one of the all-time great knockout contests. Rugby union does not come much more gloriously watchable, with a lion-hearted forward effort and two tries from Will Porter edging out a home side who racked up 100 points in two games against Saracens here this year.

Bordeaux did not have the brilliant Damian Penaud or Matthieu Jalibert, both sidelined by injury, but, equally, Quins were lacking Danny Care, Joe Marler and Joe Launchbury, who withdrew just prior to the game with a calf strain. It mattered not as Alex Dombrandt, Chandler Cunningham-South, Will Evans and Fin Baxter, the latter performing heroically in the scrums opposite the mountainous Ben Tameifuna, showed why Quins’ future is increasingly bright.

It amounted to the most staggering entertainment, with Quins’ pack proving the unexpected stars of a spectacular 12-try show. That said there was drama and intrigue until the very last with Maxime Lucu lining up a very kickable conversion to clinch potential victory. To the horror of a packed home crowd, however, the French international scrum-half’s angled kick sailed wide and Quins will now meet either Toulouse or Exeter in the last four.

Only the memorable Munster v Wasps semi-final in 2004 runs this see-sawing epic anywhere close as the most exhilarating latter-stage game the tournament has known. The visitors’ preferred plan was clear from the outset: run Bordeaux and their big forwards around for as long as possible. As early as the third minute, after an initial surge from Cunningham-South, André Esterhuizen found space down the blindside and Porter, lurking on his inside, cantered over unopposed.

It was only the start. A hard-running Oscar Beard stretched a complacent home defence and just as a hitch-kicking Marcus Smith was about to put an unmarked Tyrone Green over on the right, a deliberate knockdown by Matéo Garcia conceded a yellow card and a fully justified penalty try. The hosts were 14-0 down and urgently needed to wake up.

Tyrone Green touches down the sixth try for Harlequins. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

They duly did so, Lucu diving over in the left corner and the decision being allowed to stand despite Porter having been taken out just behind the ruck. Suddenly it was a completely different jeu and all the decisions were going the way of Bordeaux, with Romain Buros being credited with a close-range try the Italian referee had initially declined to give.

Quins needed to conjure something special to wrest back momentum and, bang on cue, it arrived. The visitors launched a daring raid from the own 22 and Cadan Murley cleverly twisted away from a couple of tacklers before finding Dombrandt in support. The No 8 stood firm in the tackle long enough to throw a world-class offload to Porter who rounded off a spectacular move by regathering his own chip ahead for a classic score.

By half-time the lead was 28-12, with Evans having burrowed over following a purposeful lineout drive and Smith having drilled over another conversion. Quins, though, have a long history of blowing hot and cold and the signs were distinctly ominous when Bordeaux’s French international centre Nicolas Depoortère scooped a Lucu offload off his toes and scored in the left corner four minutes after the restart.

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Once again, though, Quins’s scrum rode to the rescue, another penalty getting their maul rumbling again to send Dombrandt over. One missed tackle on Buros, though, was all it took to set up Louis Bielle-Biarrey for Bordeaux’s fourth try and, in the blink of an eye, the home side were ahead for the first time thanks to a try from replacement Madosh Tambwe with 15 minutes remaining.

The last act, though, was to prove even more compelling. Sam Riley lost the ball as he was about to score from another rolling maul before another sweeping Quins move saw Louis Lynagh put Green over to seize the lead again.

Could they cling on? Tambwe scored again with four minutes left but Lucu’s near miss allowed Quins to celebrate unquestionably their finest victory on French soil.

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