Champions Cup: Marcus Smith fires Harlequins past Cardiff while Munster win at Castres

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A late penalty from Marcus Smith which came shortly after his converted try helped Harlequins defeat Cardiff 36-33 in their Champions Cup clash on Friday.

The Welsh side looked set to claim a 33-26 victory at the Arms Park but Smith’s superb finish three minutes from time gave Quins a lifeline which they took.

Inspired by the England fly-half and his last-gasp three-pointer, this win confirms Quins’ place in the competition’s round of 16.

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The Premiership champions looked as though they would pay a hefty price for captain Alex Dombrandt’s second-half yellow card.

Cardiff turned the game – played behind closed doors at the Arms Park – on its head while England international Dombrandt was off, scoring three quick-fire tries.

But Quins dug deep as Smith added to earlier tries from Louis Lynagh, Tyrone Green, Luke Northmore and Danny Care, while Smith kicked four conversions and a penalty for a 16-point haul.

Wing Owen Lane led the way for Cardiff, touching down twice as Wales head coach Wayne Pivac looked on, with forwards James Ratti, Dillon Lewis and Corey Domachowski also scoring and fly-half Jarrod Evans adding four conversions.

Cardiff, hit by player unavailability for their opening two European games before Christmas, were under immediate pressure as Smith twice made sharp half-breaks, and it was no surprise when he created an opening try after just six minutes.

Cardiff were stretched defensively, and Smith’s pinpoint kick was caught by Lynagh, who finished impressively before Smith converted to open up a seven-point lead.

But Quins were then rocked by an equalising Cardiff score just five minutes later as Lane powered his way over for a try that owed everything to his strength and elusiveness.

Evans’ conversion put Cardiff on level terms, and they struck again at the end of a lively opening quarter after centre Rey Lee-Lo surged clear in midfield, Adams took the move on, then Ratti touched down from close range.

A second successful Evans conversion meant Quins’ promising opening had evaporated, and Cardiff continued to play impressive front-foot rugby, led by Lee-Lo.

Quins, though, exerted sustained pressure through their forwards approaching half-time, and they pounced after Cardiff prop Dimitri Arhip was sin-binned following repeated team infringements.

Cardiff had defended strongly, but they were undone when Green stepped inside a last-ditch tackle for his team’s second try, and although Smith drifted the conversion attempt wide, Quins were firmly back in contention at 14-12 adrift.

Smith and company thought they had struck again within a minute of the restart, after a fine kick into space by the fly-half was gathered at pace by centre Joe Marchant, before Care dived over between the posts.

But the score was ruled out for Care being offside, and while it was a huge let-off for Cardiff, they were soon undone through more fine work by Smith, who set up an attack that ended with Dombrandt delivering a scoring pass to Northmore.

Cardiff had been rocked back on their heels, yet they delivered a strong response after Dombrandt was yellow-carded for a technical offence on Quins’ line, with Lewis scoring a third try and Evans’ conversion nudging his team back in front.

Quins were suddenly all over the place, and two more tries followed in rapid succession as Lane finished superbly at the corner flag, then Domachowski scored after a thrilling long-distance team move.

Evans converted the fourth Cardiff try, leaving Quins 12 points behind entering the final quarter.

They had to score next to realistically revive victory hopes, and it was Care who delivered, sniping his way through Cardiff’s defence, and another Smith conversion halved the deficit.

Hooker Kirby Myhill became the second Cardiff player to collect a yellow card as the clock ticked down, and Quins were camped inside the opposition 22 before Smith showed his class through a try, conversion and penalty to complete a stunning late fightback.

Gavin Coombes try helps Munster beat Castres

Gavin Coombes’ late try was good enough for Munster to come from behind and win a tight Champions Cup pool match against Castres 16-13 at Stade Pierre Fabre.

The fourth time was the charm as the number eight blitzed over from close range in the 78th minute after Tadhg Beirne had won another breakdown penalty, which was kicked to touch on the hosts’ five-metre line. Jack Crowley converted.

Munster had earlier blown three penalty kicks to touch, making a mess of the lineout each time. But Coombes’ score made up for those earlier errors, as Munster made it three wins from three in this year’s competition.

Full-back Thomas Larregain’s 28th-minute try – his first for Castres since joining from Pro D2 side Colomiers – was the highlight of a messily enthralling opening half. Ben Botica added the extras.

He was the first on the scene when Botica chipped over Munster’s solid defensive line after the hosts had battered away for several phases following a penalty kicked to touch just outside the visitors’ five-metre line.

Until that point, Crowley’s 23rd-minute cross-field kick to release Keith Earls deep inside Munster’s own 22 had been the most threatening moment of a close-quarter half. Earls offloaded to Mike Haley, who found Chris Farrell. The ball was deep inside Castres’ 22 before the attack was halted. Munster won a penalty from the breakdown, but messed up the resulting close-range lineout.

Crowley had kicked Munster into an 11th-minute lead with a penalty after Castres scrum-half Santiago Arata had gone off his feet at a breakdown. The pushing and shoving that followed was a brief reminder of previous spicy encounters between the two sides in this competition.

Munster quickly settled into a set-piece plan where they were confident they would have the upper hand. They kept things simple in their own half, kicking for territory cleverly, while Beirne and captain Peter O’Mahony ramped up the pressure on the set-piece and breakdown.

But Castres were both scrappy and disciplined, giving little away and troubling Munster more than they would have expected in the tight and the loose.

The game had gone ahead in temperatures hovering around zero at Stade Pierre Fabre despite Castres reporting six positive Covid-19 results from routine testing on Wednesday.

Those test results accounted for some of the hosts’ 13 changes from the side that beat Stade Francais in the Top 14 last Saturday. The visitors, meanwhile, had made five changes from the side that had downed Ulster in the URC last weekend.

Munster fought their way back into the lead in the opening 10 minutes in the second half, courtesy of two Crowley penalties.

But they gave away two kickable chances of their own after 55 and 66 minutes. Botica converted both to make it 13-9.

Castres then tried to shut the game down. They seemed to have played the percentages better than Munster had earlier, until Coombes’ late score which was converted by Crowley.

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