|Cardiff (14) 33|
|Tries: Lane 2, Ratti, Lewis, Domachowski Cons: Evans 4|
|Harlequins (12) 36|
|Tries: Lynagh, Green, Northmore, Care, Smith Cons: Smith 4 Pens: Smith|
England fly-half Marcus Smith kicked a last-gasp penalty to give Harlequins a dramatic 36-33 victory in a 10-try Heineken Champions Cup thriller against Cardiff.
Smith kicked 16 points, inspiring a fightback from 33-19.
His late try was supplemented by scores from Louis Lynagh, Tyrone Green, Luke Northmore and Danny Care.
Cardiff wing Owen Lane scored two tries with James Ratti, Dillon Lewis and Corey Domachowski also crossing.
Smith’s brilliance allowed Harlequins to book their place in the Champions Cup last 16 with a third successive win, while Cardiff have suffered a hat-trick of defeats after this heartbreaking loss.
The excellent encounter was played behind closed doors because of Welsh government regulations, although there were people watching legally from the Cardiff Arms Park clubhouse. The regulations will be relaxed next weekend and fans will return.
In December Harlequins overcame a team of Cardiff “misfits” after the Welsh region were caught up in Covid issues during an aborted United Rugby Championship trip to South Africa.
A shadow Cardiff side also lost to Toulouse last month, but the line-up this time was much stronger with 14 internationals in the starting side, number eight Ratti the only exception.
Harlequins, who had also defeated Castres last month, made three changes including the return of wing Lynagh but were without influential South Africa centre Andre Esterhuizen.
The visitors dominated the opening exchanges and it was a clever Smith chip kick from which Lynagh gathered and crossed. Smith converted.
Cardiff retaliated with a smart finish from wing Lane in front of Wales coach Wayne Pivac and his backroom staff ahead of the Six Nations squad announcement next week.
The hosts almost followed this up with a second score following incisive bursts from Rey Lee-Lo and Josh Adams before Ratti powered over.
Cardiff were inspired by Wales scrum-half Tomos Williams and inventive play from lock Seb Davies but Jarrod Evans missed a penalty to extend the lead.
Harlequins were hampered by handling errors but relied on their driving line-out and scrummaging superiority against an increasingly ill-disciplined home side.
Moldovan prop Dmitri Arhip was shown a yellow card for collapsing a scrum just before half-time and it proved an expensive sin-binning with 12 points conceded in his absence.
Harlequins full-back Green scored after latching on to a cross kick with Cardiff leading 14-12 at half-time.
The visitors almost produced a brilliant try inside the first minute of the second half when Joe Marchant collected another fine Smith kick before the supporting Danny Care sprinted over to score.
The television match official (TMO) picked up Care being offside from the original kick and the try was chalked off.
But there was no saving the home side when former Cardiff Met students Alex Dombrandt and Luke Northmore combined for the centre to canter over.
Just after Cardiff were restored to a full complement, Harlequins captain Dombrandt was shown a yellow card for a professional foul on his own line.
Cardiff capitalised, with replacement prop Lewis powering over and Evans’ conversion restoring the lead.
Lane then scored a second opportunist try on the opposite wing when he latched on to an Amos kick with television replays showing he was onside and had grounded the ball.
The rampant hosts produced a brilliant third try, with some sublime handling rewarded with a try for prop Domachowski as Harlequins shipped 19 points when they had 14 men.
The visitors retaliated with a short-range score from scrum-half Care before more persistent offending from Cardiff saw hooker Kirby Myhill shown a yellow card.
His brother Torin came on after being drafted in from Welsh Premiership side Carmarthen Quins with hookers Liam Belcher, Iestyn Harris, Efan Daniel and Kristian Dacey injured.
Just six days earlier Torin had been in the Arms Park away dressing room for Carmarthen Quins against the Cardiff club side.
It was not the Harlequins power that levelled the scores as Smith danced through the Cardiff defence for a converted try.
With both sides trying to win the game, Rhys Priestland and Adams attempted to run the ball out of defence and were penalised. This allowed Smith to step up and slot over the dramatic match-winning penalty and leave Cardiff to rue their late game management.
Cardiff director of rugby Dai Young: “I am disappointed we lost, but proud of the effort and way we played. The pleasing factor was we were unrecognisable from the team that played last week. It was a huge improvement, we played some great stuff.
“You like to think you can close those games out but if you watch Harlequins on a regular basis, that is a regular day at the office for them. They are never beaten until the final whistle.
“I can understand how the players went for it at the end. I don’t blame us for trying to win the game, but probably the best option would have been to go to the air and see if we can get it back.”
Harlequins coach Tabai Matson: “I am not sure if I am getting conditioned to that, but it’s something over the last five weeks where things have come down to the last 10 minutes.
“It seems to keep happening with this team. It was a high-scoring game and I am pleased to come away with this outcome.
“Marcus’ touch on the ball, his kicking game and composure at the end to seal the win was exceptional.”
Cardiff: Amos; Lane, Lee-Lo, Halaholo, Adams; J Evans, T Williams; Carre, K Myhill, Arhip, Turnbull (capt), S Davies, Lewis-Hughes, Jenkins, Ratti.
Replacements: T Myhill, Domachowski, Lewis, Thornton, Boyde, L Williams, Priestland, B Thomas.
Harlequins: Green; Lynagh, Marchant, Northmore, Murley, Smith, Care; Marler, Walker, Collier, Symons, Lamb, Taulani, Lawday, Dombrandt (capt).
Replacements: Riley, Botta, Kerrod, Tizard, White, Stafford, Edwards, Jones.
Referee: Tual Trainini (France)
Assistant referees: Benoit Rousselet & Cedric Marchat (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)
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