This sun-kissed thriller of a game had just about everything, from breathtaking skill to extraordinary late drama. From Quins’ perspective, though, it will be forever remembered as the one that got away as they fell one agonising point short over two legs against the French Top-14 leaders.
Inspired by the double act of Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt Quins had looked set to clinch a famous Easter resurrection when Louis Lynagh’s 75th-minute try put them within a successful conversion of the quarter-finals. Alas for Smith, otherwise outstanding all day, the ball slid just the wrong side of the left-hand post and their 13-point victory on the day ultimately counted for little.
Not even the most passionate Quins fan, though, could complain about the quality of the entertainment. It was frantic, fast-paced and furious but, ultimately, Quins could not quite complete another of their remarkable trademark comebacks. Montpellier’s reward is a last eight all-French duel with either La Rochelle or Bordeaux.
Nor could anyone use the weather as any sort of excuse. Not only was it a cracking day to watch rugby but the clear blue skies and fast ground suited Quins’ attacking intentions perfectly. If you are trying to overcome a 14-point first-half deficit it helps be looking to do so in conditions made for rapid points scoring.
Rapid was certainly the word for Quins’ opening score which materialised after a mere 33 seconds. It all felt rather too easy as Dombrandt sliced through a slightly flat-footed defensive line to put Huw Jones over but no one could accuse Montpellier of doziness after 11 minutes when their promising young fly-half Louis Forsans cleverly put his centre Yvan Reilhac over.
It set the tone for a breathless first half with Dombrandt twisting over to score and restore the hosts’ advantage only for a Forsans penalty to peg back the lead again. The moment of the game then arrived after 29 minutes when Care acrobatically kept the ball from crossing the touchline in his own 22 and found Smith 10 metres out from his own line.
Last week Smith had a forgettable game in France but a little dummy, an irresistible surge of pace and a deceptive hitch kick took him gloriously past the Montpellier cover on a thrilling counter raid. He found a surging Cadan Murley in support and the winger fed the lurking Joe Marchant for a diagonal length-of-the-field try to rank with anything Quins have scored all season.
If the home supporters through it was the cue for the visitors to unravel, however, they were mistaken. The assured Forsans put in a well judged low cross kick and full-back Juilien Tisseron brilliantly scooped it up to score. It required a well-executed blindside scrum move three minutes before half-time to put Louis Lynagh over in the right corner and re-establish Quins’ 11-point lead on the day.
Montpellier, though, still led by three points on aggregate and the arrival of the experienced Geoffrey Doumayrou, with Handré Pollard switching from centre to 10, was a reminder that nothing was going to be handed to Quins on a silver platter. A 54th-minute penalty for Pollard extended his side’s overall advantage to six and Zach Mercer’s appearance off the bench also gave the crowd momentary pause for thought.
After eight increasingly contentious penalties conceded close to their own line, however, the 67th-minute sin-binning of the Montpellier replacement hooker Jeremie Maurouard offered Quins the chance to make the decisive thrust. Smith, dancing artfully around the outside of Bastien Chalureau, appeared to have delivered a classic coup de grace only for the ‘try’ to be ruled out for crossing and maintain the see-sawing drama right until the end.