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'That is gutting' - Harlequins refuse to blame Marcus Smith

By PA
Marcus Smith celebrates a try with teammates Louis Lynagh and Joe Marchant /PA

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Tabai Matson says Harlequins will not be blaming England star Marcus Smith for their agonising Heineken Champions Cup exit against Montpellier.

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The Quins fly-half, who also had a try disallowed, missed a straightforward conversion of wing Louis Lynagh’s 75th-minute try in a 33-20 round-of-16 second-leg victory at Twickenham Stoop.

And it meant the English champions suffered a 60-59 aggregate defeat in their quest for a first European Cup quarter-final place since 2013.

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Quins, 14 points adrift after last weekend’s first leg in France when they trailed 34-0 at one stage, looked on course to underline their status as comeback kings, but Top 14 league leaders Montpellier prevailed.

“He (Smith) will be disappointed like all the players who have really high standards,” Quins senior coach Matson said.

“It will hit him, but we play Leicester next week. Our Europe is over, that is the big thing, and that is gutting and it is how quickly you bounce.

“As with all the guys that touch the ball the most, they get a bit of leeway because the margin of error is really hard.

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“You don’t have to tell someone they missed a pass or missed a goal-kick. They know.

“It is not just him. He was there for the winning of the game at the end, but you can’t put the blame down to him.

“We probably had three opportunities in the first half that we missed to get the scoreboard ticking over.”

First-half tries from full-back Huw Jones, number eight Alex Dombrandt, centre Joe Marchant and Lynagh – all converted by Smith – underlined Quins’ appetite for another memorable turnaround.

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But Montpellier stayed in contention through tries by centre Yvan Reilhac and full-back Julien Tisseron.

Fly-half Louis Foursans kicked two conversions and a penalty, while South African World Cup winner Handre Pollard added a penalty during a game of fierce intensity.

Matson added: “To go 160 minutes and lose by a point, you realise you have missed a lot of opportunities that could have got you over the line, and that is the most frustrating thing.

“The 34-point deficit and to come back and be nearly winning is really positive, but Europe is over.”

Quins were awarded eight successive scrum penalties during the second period, and referee Mike Adamson sin-binned Montpellier’s replacement hooker Jeremie Maurouard.

“We got a yellow card, and on the first scrum I thought the (Montpellier) nine should have been penalised, but for us, the learning as we get into the big games at the end is just being composed,” Matson said.

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“For us, it was great we put them under pressure, but we didn’t affect the scoreboard, so that is the main thing.

“You have got to give this top French team credit. They were ferociously competitive, they scrambled well and the gamesmanship at the scrum, they took away with the win and they will move on.

“It was a unique challenge for us, so I enjoyed that. We started the game 14 points down, which we invariably do at Quins!

“We were one point short, and our first half last week put us in that position. We had 160 minutes to do our thing.

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“There will be a lot of really disappointed players and coaches because we felt we could go deeper in this competition.

“The way we finished the pool stages got us to this, and to lose by one point after 160 minutes is gutting.

“We are still in the (Premiership) reckoning, and the focus now can be purely on that.”

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