Pat Lam's playoff hopes in tatters as Harlequins beat Bristol in thriller
Harlequins beat Bristol 38-29 in a 10-try thriller to extend their Premiership winning run to four games.
After last season’s epic Premiership semi-final, the sides again provided another compelling spectacle and again it was Harlequins who triumphed.
Last June, Quins came back from 28-0 down to win a classic semi-final 43-36 but this time around, they had the benefit of an early 14-0 lead thanks to Cadan Murley’s two tries before holding off a spirited Bristol effort.
Bristol’s tries came from Steven Luatua, Sam Jeffries, Dave Attwood and Bryan Byrne, with Callum Sheedy converting three and adding a penalty, while Tom Lawday, Hugh Tizard, Jack Walker and Luke Northmore also crossed for Quins with Will Edwards adding four conversions.
Harlequins made a blistering start with Murley scoring two tries in the first four minutes. First full-back Tyrone Green counter-attacked from just outside his 22 and after a flowing 80-metre move, Green was on hand to send Murley flying over in the corner.
From the restart, Bristol secured possession only for their number eight Fitz Harding to throw out a wild pass which Murley collected before racing 65 metres to score.
Bristol needed a quick response and they got one when Luatua performed heroics to hold off three defenders and force his way over but in the next passage of play, the skipper was injured and left the field with an arm injury.
Before 12 minutes had elapsed a fourth try had arrived through Jeffries. He was injured in the process and hobbled off so Bristol had lost both their try-scoring back-rowers within three minutes of one another.
It was then Harlequins’ turn to lose a player when Green was helped off with a leg injury to be replaced by Louis Lynagh.
Despite that setback, the visitors extended their lead with a close-range try from Lawday after a dart from Danny Care had put the defence on the back foot.
Bristol drew level with the sixth try of the first quarter when Attwood rewarded bursts from Antoine Frisch and Harding to cross under the sticks.
The action slowed in the second quarter, though Tizard’s bonus-point try for Quins partially offset the loss of Murley through injury and Care to a yellow card.
Quins led 26-19 at the interval but in Care’s absence, Bristol were able to pick up the first try of the second half when Byrne rolled over from a line-out drive.
Care returned with no further damage done but Sheedy put Bristol in front for the first time with a penalty before the hosts introduced Piers O’Conor for his 100th appearance for the club.
Steady rain made the playing conditions more difficult so the game became more conservative but with 15 minutes remaining, Bristol lost Harding to the sin-bin for a high challenge.
It proved significant as Walker finished off a line-out drive and though O’Conor’s tremendous run spurred on Bristol, Quins just kept their line intact and broke out to seal victory when a well-judged kick from Care was seized upon by Northmore to leave any lingering Bristol hopes of a play-off place in tatters.
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