A last-minute penalty from Marcus Smith propelled Harlequins into the last 16 of the Champions Cup and cemented their claim to England’s No.10 shirt.
The 22-year-old netted 16 points, in a game the English champions were lucky to win as they trailed in tatters from a razor-sharp Cardiff back line throughout, but a masterclass Joe Marler’s scrimmage set the stage for Smith to work his magic.
“It’s a relief,” Smith said. “I don’t think we were at the races against a very strong Cardiff team. It’s a testament to the guys and what we’re trying to build. We’re stuck in that and we’re very resilient at times.
“To be rewarded with a penalty in front of the sticks by the forwards was a huge relief. All season forwards have made the difference for us. As defenders, we’re very lucky to play behind a squad that when they’re on top, they stay on top.
“Their ability to pick lines makes it so easy for me and some of the tries were good individual bits, but as a team we have to keep focusing on gelling as a team.”
It was a travesty that this match was being played behind closed doors, with some of the highest class rugby and Cardiff’s Owen Lane equally outstanding.
After an early period of pressure, a well-executed cross kick by Smith was recovered by Louis Lynagh. The Australian cut inside Hallam Amos before showing his strength to force his way over the line for his first try. After a few phases the ball was spread wide to Lane who swept away some weak tackles to score in the far right corner.
Jarrod Evans added the extras and Cardiff was soon celebrating their second try. Samoan center Rey Lee-Lo sliced Quins with a 70-yard break before unloading on Josh Adams. The Wales international was brought down by Tyrone Green, but after a period of sustained pressure, James Ratti snuck in from close range. Cardiff wrapped up the scrum which resulted in prop Dmitri Arhip being sent to the sin-bin, and they made the most of their power play with another cross kick from Smith leading to the landing of Green. Sparkling work from Smith with a deceptive inside pass to Alex Dombrandt sent Luke Northmore for a try.
Smith converted but Cardiff refused to throw in the towel and were able to create some pressure in the Harlequins 22 which saw Dombrandt shown a yellow card for killing the ball when broken down. After huffing and huffing on the visiting try line, Wales international Dillon Lewis burst in for Cardiff’s third try, Evans converting to push Cardiff ahead.
The game then turned completely upside down with a well-timed kick from Amos collected by Lane who finished acrobatically in the far left corner. The referee and TMO deliberated, but the try was eventually awarded. Harlequins were getting shredded as a nice offload from Lee-Lo passed through the hands of Seb Davies and Shane Lewis-Hughes, before Lane charged down the touchline. The ball was recycled by Cardiff with an inside pass from Willis Halaholo allowing Corey Domachowski to score. Smith danced past three defenders to score a crucial try and level the scores in the process before earning the game-winning penalty.
“You’d like to think you could close these games out but if you look at Harlequins it’s a normal day at the office for them, they’re never beaten until the final whistle,” the director of rugby said. Cardiff, Dai Young. “I never felt comfortable. I’m proud of the effort and the way we played.