Alex Dombrandt hat-trick sees Harlequins snatch Champions Cup win over Castres
Dombrandt touched down with an outstretched arm in the 85th minute – the final act of play – to preserve Quins’ perfect record in the group stage and they progress to the knockout phase as one of the competition’s favourites.
An unpredictable clash saw the lead regularly change hands but it was the Top 14’s third-placed team who appeared to be finishing stronger until a late rally from the Gallagher Premiership champions led by Dombrandt.
The England number eight was magnificent in his final outing before meeting up with Eddie Jones’ squad in Brighton next week to begin preparations for the Guinness Six Nations.
Quins were stunned into disbelief as they trailed 8-0 inside three minutes when their former fly-half Ben Botica landed a penalty followed by a soft try for hooker Gaetan Barlot.
A line-out offered the platform to attack and Harlequins were slow to react as the ball was fed straight back to Barlot who scampered down the touchline to cross in the corner.
And the home defence was all at sea again as Castres plundered a second that was the outcome of smart attacking play and a gaping hole on the blindside that invited wing Antoine Zeghdar over.
Quins’ response was to touch down in the left corner with their first meaningful attack as clever build up from Cadan Murley created a half chance for Dombrandt that he finished with an athletic dive over the whitewash.
The deficit was reduced to four points when a kick from Tommy Allan caused confusion in the Castres ranks and the quickest to capitalise was Huw Jones.
Just short of the half-hour mark, the fifth try arrived as Quins surged ahead through a line-out drive that ended with flanker Viliami Taulani crashing over the line.
But a rollercoaster match continued as Joe Marler was sin-binned for standing on Barlot’s hand before Castres once more created space down an undermanned blindside for scrum-half Rory Kockott to score.
The lead did not last long as Louis Lynagh showed determination to keep a move going and with defenders sucked in, Dombrandt was presented with a simple walk in for his second.
Filipo Nakosi replied for Castres after collecting Botica’s kick and the Kiwi fly-half would have provided another had he not dropped the ball having brilliantly weaved his way to the whitewash.
But centre Adrea Cocagi forced his muscular frame over with a strong carry from a line-out to open up a four-point advantage.
Marcus Smith arrived to replace Allan and with him came renewed hope after a period of control from Castres, but it was Dombrandt who delivered the breakthrough following a lengthy siege on the French club’s line.
There was a whiff of controversy over the end that saw Quins win a series of penalties, one of which was harshly given for a perfectly legal turnover from the visitors.
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