Danny Care to the fore as Harlequins show champion quality to squeeze past Gloucester late on

Gloucester 17 Harlequins 20

A try on his 35th birthday for Danny Care twisted this contest in Harlequins’ favour, with the Premiership champions digging deep to end Gloucester’s three-game winning run.

Quins overcame the late withdrawal of Joe Marler and a 10-0 deficit to score 20 unanswered points through tries by Luke Northmore and Care plus the boot of Marcus Smith.

“He just keeps finding a way to get over the line,” Harlequins senior coach Tabai Matson said of Care. “The forwards will whack him over the head for stealing their try. I wouldn’t say half a decade, but he’s still got years left in him. He’s going well, isn’t he?

“To get a result here is phenomenal, but to do it with a couple of yellow cards in the first half showed real grit and determination. It’s a fantastic outcome and a tough game.”

Gloucester mangled Bath upfront the previous week but despite some early scrum pressure through Val Rapava-Ruskin lacked the same dominant platform, with their attack struggling as a result. It was far from a classic, even a touch underwhelming given both sides’ previous form, with Harlequins simply delighted to leave with the win.

“These games against top-four teams, you are only get a few opportunities and you have to take them. That’s something we have to really push hard on,” admitted Gloucester head coach George Skivington, addressing his side’s inaccuracy. “We’ll learn and get better.”

With Harlequins tighthead Will Collier struggling against Rapava-Ruskin, coughing up multiple scrum penalties in the opening quarter, Gloucester kicked to touch twice in the visitors’ 22 but failed to put points on the board.

Neither side exactly hit their straps in the opening quarter, with Harlequins’ failure to roll away eventually allowing Adam Hastings to score the game’s first points with a penalty after 21 minutes.

Had it stood then Gloucester would have then pulled off a phenomenal length-of-the-field try, started by Louis Rees-Zammit combining with Chris Harris back in their own 22, but Rapava-Ruskin knocked on grounding the ball over the line.

Tom Lawday’s yellow card for not rolling away however kept Gloucester on the front foot, and from a five-metre lineout who better to score, peeling off the tail of the lineout, than Ruan Ackermann on his 100th game for the club. Hastings converted to give Gloucester a 10-0 lead.

Harlequins barely fired a shot in the opening half hour, taking that long to have an opportunity inside Gloucester’s 22 with Smith knocking over a penalty after Ackermann failed to roll away. And a first try soon followed – Jack Kenningham’s excellent pass freeing Northmore for a run to the line, stepping Lloyd Evans to score.

Harlequins were level in a flash at 10-10, but a yellow card against Northmore for a deliberate knock-on left them down to 14 again by half-time.

A flat, cagey opening to the second half with Harlequins camped in Gloucester territory was almost broken up by Smith, his low kick somehow ending up in touch by the corner flag.

But Harlequins were knocking on the door, with Smith hitting the post with a penalty attempt and then after an Andre Esterhuizen break, Dino Lamb was denied in the corner by a no-arms tackle from Ackermann. 

The visitors kicked for the corner and after a brief maul, Care darted to his right to score, giving Harlequins the lead for the first time 65 minutes into the match.

A penalty from Smith stretched Harlequins’ lead to 10 points but with a couple of minutes left Gloucester finally had the maul firing, Santiago Socino the scorer, leaving enough time for the conversion and a potential comeback only for a late penalty against captain Lewis Ludlow to snuff out Gloucester’s hopes.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 3-0 Hastings pen, 8-0 Ackermann try, 10-0 Hastings pen, 10-3 Smith pen, 10-8 Northmore try, 10-10 Smith con, 10-15 Care try, 10-17 Smith con, 10-20 Smith pen, 15-20 Socino try, 17-20 Evans con

Gloucester: L Evans; L Rees-Zammit, C Harris, B Twelvetrees ( T Seabrook 68), O Thorley; A Hastings (K Moyle 60), B Meehan (C Chapman 52); V Rapava-Ruskin (J Ford-Robinson 40), J Singleton (S Socino 52), F Balmain (K Gotovtsev 68), F Clarke, M Alemanno (A Davidson 68), J Reid (J Clement 65), L Ludlow (c), R Ackermann

Harlequins: T Green; L Lynagh, L Northmore (H Jones 69), A Esterhuizen, J Marchant; M Smith, D Care (L Gjaltema 76); S Botta (J Els 68), J Walker (J Musk 68), W Collier (S Kerrod 59), M Symons (D Lamb 60), H Tizard, T Lawday, J Kenningham, A Dombrandt (c, L Wallace 76)
Not used: W Edwards
Yellow cards: T Lawday 22, L Northmore 38

Referee: T Foley
Attendance: 16,115

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