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Harlequins suffer dramatic defeat to 12-man Racing 92

By PA
NANTERRE, FRANCE - JANUARY 15: Finn Russell of Racing 92 embraces Marcus Smith of Harlequins following the Heineken Champions Cup Pool A match between Racing 92 and Harlequins at Paris La Defense Arena on January 15, 2023 in Nanterre, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Harlequins had victory snatched away from them in dramatic style even though they were playing against 12 Racing 92 players at the time.

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The French side, three times runners-up in the Heineken Champions Cup, looked dead and buried when they conceded a penalty try in the 75th minute and lost talisman Finn Russell to a yellow card.

The departure of the Scottish playmaker made it three sin-binnings in as many minutes for the home side and they found themselves behind for the first time in the match at 29-27.

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Despite being three men down, they managed to gather the restart and Andre Esterhuizen was penalised for not releasing to give Nolann Le Garrec the chance to step into the goalkicking shoes of Russell and win the match.

He hit the mark from 40 metres and Racing were able to play out the final three minutes to win by a single point.

Coming into the game the Top 14 side had not won for five games and needed to take something from the game to keep alive their faint hopes of reaching the last 16. They have to go to Dublin to face unbeaten Leinster in the final pool round.

From the Harlequins perspective, they will need to beat the Sharks at home to keep them in with a chance of going into the knock-out stage.

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Racing got off to a flying start with skipper Gael Fickou crossing for the first of the game’s seven tries. By the break they were 14-3 ahead after a second try from replacement Kitione Kamikamica.

They took a mere 17 seconds of the second half to added another when Francis Sailli crossed against his former team-mates.

That left the Quins with a mountain to climb at 18 points down and their fightback was hindered by yellow cards for Aaron Morris and skipper Alex Dombrandt and two tries ruled out for being held up.

The return of Marcus Smith at number 10 was a huge boost and he showed new England coach Steve Borthwick that he is ready to return to international action with two great breaks and a fine all-round kicking display. Smith had not played since the Autumn Nations Series but looked sharp in his Calcutta Cup preview against Russell.

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Danny Care launched the comeback with a try from close range and Smith added the extras. Then Cadan Murley got the first of his second-half brace to cut the gap to four points with Smith’s second conversion.

Russell kicked a penalty to ease the pressure but Quins managed to grab another Murley try despite being short-handed with Dombrandt still on the sidelines. That score gave Smith another touchline conversion attempt to level things up, but he pushed his kick inches wide to the left.

Another Russell penalty made it 27-22 with 11 minutes to go before Racing’s indiscipline seemed to sink their hopes.

Donovan Taofifenua was the first to go, then Eddy Ben Arous and finally Russell after his deliberate knock-on led to a penalty try.

It looked as though Quins were going to take the full five points, but then came the last shot for glory by Le Garrec.

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