Alex Dombrandt seals it late for Harlequins with last-gap try against Castres

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Alex Dombrandt seals it late for Harlequins with last-gap try against Castres
© GETTY IMAGES Alex Dombrandt – Alex Dombrandt seals it late for Harlequins with last-gap try against Castres – GETTY IMAGES

Harlequins 36 Castres 33

What a test this was for a much-changed Harlequins side, facing a phenomenal, spirited effort from Castres which meant that it took Harlequins long after the clock had expired to grab victory through their captain Alex Dombrandt. After a lengthy review, Dombrandt’s try ensured Harlequins will finish as one of the top seeds, but behind Leicester on points difference, and gain a favourable draw in the last 16.

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Even with Danny Care rested and Marcus Smith left on the pitch Harlequins still racked up points, a hat-trick for Dombrandt taking him up to 11 tries for the season.

Castres had no interest in giving their hosts an easy ride, continually wrestling the lead back from Harlequins throughout. Third in the Top 14, most French sides recognising that qualification was a long shot would have just rolled over. Full credit to Castres therefore for putting up a fight.

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What might have been for Castres had their fly-half Ben Botica, the former Harlequin, not missed four conversions and squandered a golden try-scoring chance as well when he dropped the ball over the line. He smiled afterwards, but should definitely avoid the replays. Junior coaches watching must have been screaming “ball in two hands” after his one-handed placement to score backfired.

The visitors knew before kick-off that a win could see them slip into the last-16 places ahead of Cardiff Blues, who fortuitously had moved up into the qualification spots after their trip to Toulouse was cancelled due to Covid.

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Castres could hardly have wished for a better start, former Harlequin Ben Botica knocking over a penalty almost straight after the kick-off, followed by a try for their captain Gaetan Barlot from a well-worked lineout move with the hooker breaking clear down the touchline. They then added to their lead – Antoine Zeghdar was easy to spot at 6ft 6in out on the wing, and after his burst up the right, Castres persisted before a scruffy pass from Rory Kockott was picked up by Zeghdar, the defensive line opening for him to finish.

Trailing 0-13 after 10 minutes wasn’t exactly what Harlequins had planned but they hit back well, captain Alex Dombrandt diving over in the corner after Tommy Allan’s pass created the space out wide.

Botica’s second penalty extended Castres’ lead but they then conceded a bizarre try, Allan’s grubber hacked on by Andre Esterhuizen with the ball landing in the lap of a hapless Zeghdar. Juggling the ball while hanging in mid-air under his own posts, like a bit of prey, he was clattered into by Esterhuizen, spilling possession with Huw Jones on hand to score his first try for the club.

With momentum having shifted, Castres’ lead was soon a thing of the past. It has been an emotional week for Viliami Taulani, the club’s Tongan flanker after the tragic events in Tonga last weekend. Fittingly he crashed over for Harlequins’ third try, giving Harlequins the lead for the first time after nearly half an hour.

Castres’ analysts must have spotted a weakness in Harlequins’ lineout work at the front because they exploited it again, Filipo Nakosi this time turning provider as Castres reversed the play to the short side and put Rory Kockott over for the visitors’ third try, shortly after Joe Marler had been yellow carded for a stamp. Allan’s penalty then brought a riveting first half to a close at 22-23.

Three minutes into the second half and Harlequins had their bonus point and the lead, Dombrandt strolling his way over for one of the easiest scorer of his career after good work from Louis Lynagh down the opposite wing.

Enormous credit to Castres for stubbornly refusing to make this easier for Harlequins, with Botica’s excellent cross-field kick finding Nakosi in acres of space to score their own try bonus point.

Botica nearly scored a gem against his old club, hot-stepping his way through only to drop the ball over the line. Botica was reprieved – Adrea Cocagi powered over for Castres’ fifth try after a maul was stopped, putting them back in front at 29-33.

With Harlequins trailing by four they turned to the England fly-half Smith for more magic and after battering Castres in the final minutes looking for the winning score, Dombrandt made enough contact with the line to secure victory.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 0-3 Botica pen, 0-8 Barlot, 0-13 Zeghdar try, 5-13 Dombrandt try, 5-16 Botica pen, 10-16 Jones try, 12-16 Botica con, 17-16 Taulani try, 19-16 Botica con, 19-21 Kockott try, 19-23 Botica con, 22-23 Allan pen, 27-23 Dombrandt try, 29-23 Allan con, 29-28 Nakosi try, 29-33 Cocagi try, 34-33 Dombrandt try, 36-33 Smith con

Harlequins: N David; L Lynagh, H Jones, A Esterhuizen, C Murley (J Marchant 46); T Allan (M Smith 66), S Steele (L Gjaltema 48); J Marler (S Garcia Bott 63), J Musk (S Riley 44), S Kerrod (M Wilson 38), D Lamb, H Tizard (G Hammond 74), V Taulani (A White 53), L Wallace, A Dombrandt (c).

Sin-bin: Marler.

Castres: T Larregain (L le Brun 25); A Zeghdar, P Aguillon (V Botitu 58), A Cocagi, F Nakosi; B Botica, R Kockott (J Fernandez 63); A Tichit (J Nostadt 46), G Barlot (c, P Ngauamo ), A Guillamon (M Tierney 46), F Vanverberghe, J Whetton (T Hannoyer 46, J Raisuqe 74), N Champion de Crespigny, M Kafatolu, K Kornath.

Referee: M Adamson.

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