Alex Dombrandt’s late heroics earn Harlequins thrilling win over Castres

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<span>Photograph: David Davies/PA</span>
Photograph: David Davies/PA

Chalk this up as yet another one for the scrapbook. Harlequins simply do not know when they are beaten and on this occasion it was their captain, Alex Dombrandt, who proved the hero, finishing off his hat-trick in the 85th minute to clinch another dramatic victory.

In doing so he broke Castres’ hearts – the French side coming agonisingly close to a place in the knockout stages – and sent a timely reminder of his talents to Eddie Jones. It seems that no matter the situation, provided Harlequins are in touching distance when the clock goes red they will find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Related: French rugby chiefs’ fury as Cardiff awarded walkover against Toulouse

This time it was fitting that it was Dombrandt who came up with the decisive try given he was their standout performer. The make-up of Eddie Jones’s squad appears to have created an opening at No8 and, though Dombrandt has his rivals, few would begrudge him a Six Nations start against Scotland.

Certainly, he signs off his club duties in considerable style, tipping this chaotic, highly entertaining match in Harlequins’ favour. “I said it right off the bat – he’s a special player and creates moments,” said the Harlequins coach Tabai Matson. “There are very few in his position who can do that. I think he’d make a difference at the next level.”

Both sides finished with five tries and, had Castres managed to hang on, they would have left the defending champions, Toulouse, staring down the barrel of elimination. Given they have already threatened the tournament organisers with legal action, it can probably go down as a bullet dodged for EPCR. One has to feel for Castres, however, so maligned for how poor they can be on their travels but resilient to the end here.

The upshot for Toulouse, who had to forfeit their match against Cardiff this weekend, is that they are much more likely to advance to the knockout stages but their fate is still not in their hands. Harlequins, meanwhile, cruise through in second place in their pool and with four wins from four, each of them crazier and more dramatic than the last.

Castres had not won an away match in the tournament since December 2012 but within the first five minutes they hadbuilt an 8-0 lead. Ben Botica, up against his former club, kicked a straightforward penalty before the captain and hooker, Gaëtan Barlot, struck with the opening try from a clever lineout move. Harlequins were reeling when Antoine Zeghdar darted through a gap for another Castres try but the Premiership champions fought their way back into a 19-16 lead.

First Dombrandt showed his class with a finish in a tight corner on the left and, though Botica added another penalty, Huw Jones pounced on the loose ball under the posts before Viliami Taulani barged over from close range. A yellow card for Joe Marler for kicking through a ruck played a significant part in Castres taking the lead into the interval, however.

Another clever lineout move freed Filipo Nakosi down the left and he released Rory Kockott to cruise over. Botica converted before a Tommy Allan penalty trimmed the deficit to a point. Dombrandt’s second try, finishing off an overlap, brought up the bonus point but Castres hit back through Nakosi and the impressive Adrea Cocagi before the Harlequins No 8 had the final say, squeezing the ball on to the line. He was awarded the try by the referee, Mike Adamson, after consultation with the TMO.

“There’s a sense of relief,” added Matson. “We get to close the European pool stages with four wins and we’re through to the second stages, but jeepers. I understand it seems to be the way here. I don’t agree with it but it seems to be the way.”

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