Delighted O'Shea hails victory 'over wallet' as Harlequins hold firm
Hold those obituaries. It seems there's life left yet in English rugby. This was a magnificent victory against Europe's top side and its richest too, full of pride, ferocity and no little skill, Harlequins outscoring the supposed free-flowing Frenchies by three tries to one.
This was Toulouse's first defeat at home in Europe in almost three years. There were stand-out performances from full-back Mike Brown, who bagged a couple of tries, with spirited help from chastened scrum-half Danny Care, who was arrested for being 'drunk and disorderly' after the home game last weekend against Toulouse, and 'Bloodgate' wing substitute Tom Williams, whose late contribution had a major bearing on the result.
"It was the size of the heart against the size of the wallet, and today the heart won," Harlequins' director of rugby Conor O'Shea said. "Even if I'm playing Scrooge by saying it's only a pool win, it's still a bloody great Christmas present. The more hostile their crowd got, the better I liked it."
As for Care, he's gone from pillock to heroic status within a few days. "I obviously made a mistake (last week) and I wanted to put in a performance for the boys," he said.
There was drama and incident throughout. Quins had to withstand a ferocious late rally by Toulouse without No 8 Nick Easter who was sent to the sin-bin with 12 minutes remaining. As he returned with two minutes left, Will Skinner was being sent off from the replacement bench, the Harlequins flanker judged to have prevented Maxime Medard from catching a ball beyond the sidelines to take a quick throw. Skinner had been substituted much earlier, making it probably the only time that a dismissal has coincided with an increase in numbers.
There was so much spirit and sheer guts to admire in the Quins performance, all the more notable given that they were munched in the scrum and wobbly in the line-out. The headline acts, such as Care, Easter and Brown, delivered but so did Matt Hopper who punched far above his weight in the tackle against the aristocratic Toulouse back-line.
Toulouse found themselves cut up with ridiculous ease, 15-3 adrift until just before the half-time interval, all displaced and out-of-sorts. It looked as if the French champions were shaking the torpor from their limbs after the break, their try just before the interval from lock Yoann Maestri being immediately backed up by three penalties from scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain to edge Toulouse into the lead at 19-15 on the hour mark. Luke McAlister had earlier missed 12 points through fluffed kicks for Toulouse.
If we had come ready to apply the last rites of Premier rugby's finest, then Harlequins were determined to disabuse us of such heretical thoughts.
But Williams was to provide the final impetus in the 62nd minute. The wing had been on the field barely 60 seconds, yet raced up from the restart after Doussain's third penalty to flatten Vincent Clerc in his own 22, Williams gathering the ball that spilled from the Frenchman's grasp. A quick recycle, a deft touch from Easter and there was Brown skipping through for his second try. Nick Evans converted and then landed three penalties.
Evans had been a seminal figure in his side's first-half tries, his shrewd grubber setting up Brown's first try in the 12th minute and another clever kick doing likewise for the second scored by hooker Joe Gray nine minutes later.
Toulouse had plenty of chances themselves but Harlequins somehow held firm. It was terrific stuff. (© Daily Telegraph, London)