It took one of the most remarkable recoveries in Premiership Rugby history, to see the Harlequins Grand Final place secured after a staggering recovery against league-leaders, the Bristol Bears.
Next weekend, it will be Exter v Harlequins though the ‘Quins players may need an extra day for recovery; that is after extra time was added to the first of two semifinals played this weekend. Opening the schedule, the table-topping Bristol Bears hosted Harlequins at Ashton Gate. But few would have envisioned the drama and emotion left out on the field after an epic knockout match.
It would see a team take a huge lead before the chasing side upset the rhythm of the Bristol side, to recover and to overtake their opponents. With the mantra of ‘no regrets’ playing in their ears after the halftime break, it saw remarkable scenes playout, before added time finally ensured the good fortunes of the Harlequins club would continue in 2021.
While remarkable, the comeback was exciting for the fight shown from the full Harlequins squad but as much for their endurance. Needing to rebound so far, once they had the ‘bit between their teeth’ it seemed inevitable even after Bristol kicked a penalty to make to threaten the comeback victory. Yet at 31-31, Wayne Barnes called for two extra halves of ten minutes, and the match went from superb, to become sublime!
⏱️ 38 minutes @harlequins trailing by 28-0 😯
⏱️ 62 minutes later…@harlequins win 43-36 at Ashton Gate after extra-time 🤯
Was this the most spectacular comeback in #GallagherPrem history? 📚
Relive some of the greatest fightbacks on our website now ⤵️
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) June 19, 2021
In the end, not even the exhaustion of all players involved could undo the inevitable Harlequins’ resurgence. They had become rejuvenated, They ended up scoring seven tries to five, and would ultimately silence the home crowd who had prematurely imagined their own Bears team setting up a Grand Final fixture. No, it was the London side who triumphed by the final whistle.
They played for an incredible 100+ minutes, to overcome the odds and a formidable foe.
Bristol Bears 36 – Tries: Ben Earl, Max Malins (3), Luke Morahan; Conversion: Callum Sheedy; Penalties: Sheedy (3)
Harlequins 43 – Tries: Alex Dombrandt, Tyrone Green (2), James Chisholm, Louis Lynagh, Joe Marchant (2); Cons: Marcus Smith (4)
Staggering recovery earns Harlequins Grand Final place
Most sides that ran out to a 28-0 scoreline inside 30 minutes, would imagine the game falling their way. And playing a brilliant strategy of ‘blitzkrieg rugby’ that almost shattered their opposing XV, Bristol appeared to have made the perfect start.
To observers, they were running riot. It was sublime rugby football. And while Harlequins crossed the line once to head into the sheds at 28-5, the difference in the two sides’ performance was measurable. Possession statistics were at an alarming 60% for the hosts.
It might have had old-fashioned coaches throwing furniture to make players realize the issues. But professional Premiership players in 2021 know for themselves from the earliest rugby stages, the most important component in any game is the word team.
Celebrating the team win, individuals can still be respected for their input. And while Bristol’s Charles Piutau was cruelly removed due to an HIA off-field call, out on the pitch the visiting fullback played an exemplary match.
Tyrone Green explained post-match, “that’s probably the most crazy game I’ve ever played in”. The best game I’ve ever played in”. Voted player of the day for his two tries and eagerness to be involved, the fullback summed up the match. “We let ourselves down in the first half, but the boys did themselves justice and we came out in the second half with one of the best performances we’ve had this season.
“The coaches and players have worked so hard for this, but this is a small achievement compared to what we are aiming for next week.”
Gallagher Premiership Grand Final – Exeter Chiefs v Harlequins, Saturday June 26
Pat Lam laments ‘what was’ and what will never be
“You don’t always get the fairy tale . . .”, was the honest assessment by Bristol head coach Pat Lam. After such a jarring outcome, the Director of Rugby stood on the field and much like his players, took in what had occurred. “We had many chances to win that game and didn’t put it away and when it went into extra time we knew we had to score twice because we were down on the tries.
“We almost did it, but not quite,’’ Lam told BBC Radio Bristol. “In extra time we had opportunities, we didn’t take them, but that’s just the way rugby goes. It’s cruel, but I’m very proud of the whole group and what they’ve achieved this year.”
Whether by design or a lack of composure, the leading team were overcome and it will be seen in several different ways. From the jest and make an example of Bristol – too overconfident for their own good. To some who feel that it was a lucky win; that the game of two halves was decided on the bounce of the ball. Some might even find referring decisions that might have been yellow (where they were judged officially only a Penalty) and could have altered the outcome.
Still, games that tilt to such degrees are dictated by as many moments, as they are by the combined efforts of the group. In this case, the Harlequins group, who believed that redemption was only 40 minutes away. And while it did take more than 60 minutes to decide the final outcome, history will know how the Harlequins Grand Final place was awarded due to that team’s effort.
Combined efforts are literally the fundamentals tools for every good rugby team. It might start from an individual effort yet 15 men must unite to achieve a combined goal. So even while 28 unanswered points was a fantastic effort by the Bristol Bears, the resounding team performance by Harlequins to match and then better their more fancied opponents is what should be celebrated.
Next Saturday, the challenge gets even harder though, where the Harlequins Grand Final place is going to be the biggest step for the club in nearly 10 years.
“Main photo credit”
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