Smith and Lynagh lead Harlequins’ second-half comeback to stun Bristol

Marcus Smith capped his first appearance of the season with a stunning solo try in another thrilling comeback victory for Harlequins against Bristol. Harlequins were 21 points down when Smith came off the bench in the first half but eight tries later Bristol had been ruthlessly put to the sword by the 22-year-old fly-half and his irrepressible captain Alex Dombrandt.

It was exhibition stuff by the end and that should concern Pat Lam, whose side have lost three of their opening four matches and capitulated in both away from home. For if a comeback victory for Harlequins against Bristol sounds familiar, it should be noted that Smith and co romped to victory here after turning the tide. Their semi-final win last season was a nail-biting classic, here they simply turned up the heat and Bristol melted.

Just as was the case last term, however, when Smith is at the helm Harlequins simply do not know when they are beaten and with Louis Lynagh in a rich vein of scoring form – he notched another two here – they will always take some stopping. This was their third bonus point victory of the season to move top of the table and perhaps their biggest problem will come in the autumn – for surely Smith and Dombrandt will be busy with England in November.

“Marcus Smith in this system is exceptional, any time he gets into his groove he not only creates opportunities but is a real handful for the opposition and the try he scored on the chip through shows a world class skill set,” said the Harlequins coach Tabai Matson. “I wouldn’t say Alex is unique but he’s rare as a loose forward. He’s very skilled. I thought he played exceptionally well. Defensively he was bloody good today.”

Just as was the case in June, Bristol took a 21-0 lead, swarming all over Harlequins in the opening quarter and giving Harry Randall Sheedy front-foot ball with which to prise openings. Twice the scrum-half caught Harlequins cold with quickly-taken penalties – the second of which led to Joe Joyce’s opening try after the scrum-half had been stopped just short of the line.

Bristol’s second try was a peach, finished by Henry Purdy, who arced his way into the space on the left before stepping inside. Callum Sheedy converted for a second time and Harlequins were rattled when Charles Piutau was over for Bristol’s third on 25 minutes.

In the buildup to Piutau’s try, the Harlequins fly-half Tommaso Allan suffered a nasty head injury, which saw Smith’s introduction – and an enormous roar from the crowd as he came on – far earlier than planned. It had the desired effect with a scything break from Andre Esterhuizen up the middle giving Harlequins the platform to register their first try through Lynagh, who, he is fast becoming prolific and comments earlier in the day from Australia’s coach Dave Rennie that the Wallabies will be waiting in the wings if he is not capped by England will not have gone unnoticed by Eddie Jones. Bristol again started the brighter after the interval but Dombrandt was leading the defensive resistance and not for the first time came up with a key turnover. Smith missed touch with the penalty but no matter – moments later he shimmied through a gap and offloaded to Lynagh who exchanged passes with Esterhuizen before running clear. Smith’s conversion brought Harlequins to within 10 and two minutes later they were within touching distance with Esterhuizen finishing off after a delightful offload from Dombrandt.

Smith missed the conversion but, with Bristol’s Jake Heenan shown a yellow card for infringing in the buildup, Harlequins had the lead by the hour mark when the replacement Luke Northmore plunged over. When Will Collier scampered over for Harlequins’ fifth try the game was up for Bristol and Tyrone Green notched No 6 in the left-hand corner after Smith’s crossfield kick. Smith then got in on the act with a fine chip and gather and Dombrandt rounded things off. “Rugby is a simple game,” said Lam. “We need 15 guys on the same page, doing their jobs well. We take the glory when we win games and we’ll take the hurt when we lose the game.”

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