The high-flying Harlequins score seven tries to secure a spot in the knockout stage of the Champions Cup.
Harlequins have had a difficult history in the knockout rounds of this tournament, with the infamous Bloodgate incident being a particularly painful memory. However, they will have a chance to redeem themselves in April. If they are able to secure a home match, their likelihood of winning for the first time will be significantly improved.
Quins’ victory, with seven tries scored, has moved them into second place in Pool 2 with 15 points, tied with Bath and Toulouse. These two teams will face each other in France. However, Toulouse currently has a significant lead in points difference. If Bath fails to secure any points in their match on Sunday, Quins will have the advantage of a home tie. Unfortunately for Ulster, their chances of advancing are now over. Even if they had managed to score a fourth try at the end of the game, they would still only have a slim chance of staying in contention. Despite scoring two tries in the final 10 minutes, it was not enough for Ulster to remain in the race.
The scoreline may not accurately reflect it, but Ulster did not outplay Quins. Quins efficiently converted every chance in the first half, even when it seemed unlikely. Ulster put pressure on them in the beginning, but Quins remained composed.
On the day of the game, Louis Lynagh was brought into the match as a substitute in the 17th minute to replace Oscar Beard, who had suffered a head injury and was called up to the England squad. Lynagh displayed his speed, creativity, and unwavering determination by scoring two impressive tries in the first half.
Quins were quick to take the lead, scoring in just the fifth minute in their usual fashion. The ball had gone out of bounds in Quins’ territory, but André Esterhuizen managed to retrieve it. He spotted Nick David signaling for the ball and passed it to him with a lob. David then sprinted to score while Ulster were left confused.
Shortly after, David was penalized and sent to the sin bin for intentionally knocking the ball forward. This was when Ulster was putting the most pressure on their opponents, with Nick Timoney repeatedly attacking their defense. The away team tied the game when Robert Baloucoune made a great move and worked with John Cooney and Mike Lowry to get the ball to David McCann for a try out wide.
At that moment, the more experienced Irishmen were favored, but Lynagh changed the outcome. Marcus Smith signaled for a mark and Lynagh yelled in his ear. Smith passed to him and Lynagh made a break from his own 22. He effortlessly evaded Billy Burns and then kicked into Ulster’s 22. A fortunate bounce evaded Jacob Stockdale’s attempt to cover and landed right in Lynagh’s arms for an impressive individual try. He repeated this feat a few minutes later, although not as flashy. After Esterhuizen kicked a loose ball forward, Lynagh’s determination paid off when Baloucoune misjudged the bouncing ball. Baloucoune attempted to fall on it, but missed, allowing Lynagh to collect for his second try.
Quins extended their lead to 21-7 by halftime. Danny Care used his signature moves to score the fourth try early in the second half, giving Quins the bonus point and securing their spot in second place. Quins’ scrum continued to dominate, putting Ulster at a disadvantage. Esterhuizen scored after Care took a quick penalty, followed by a classic Quins-style counterattack that spanned the length of the field. Tyrone Green caught a clearance kick and passed to Smith, who made a break. Green then received a return pass further upfield and passed to David, who scored the final try.
In the 73rd minute, Quins’ Will Evans managed to retrieve a stray ball, resulting in their seventh goal. However, in the final 10 minutes, Stuart McCloskey and Stockdale scored tries for the visitors, giving them a brief chance of earning a bonus point.
Their hopes were dashed, but Quins still hold on to hope.