With so many England internationals in the Harlequins team, it was a final chance for them to impress Stuart Lancaster before the England head coach names his Elite Performance Squad on Tuesday. There entire back row was impressive throughout with the home side on top at the set-pieces and the breakdown, any one of Luke Wallace, Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter could have won man of the match, which went to Wallace. Quins bossed possession and territory for much of the game, breaking the gainline at will and forcing the weary Castres defence into making, or at least attempting, scores of tackles. On another day, in different playing conditions, this game could have been a rout such was the dominance throughout. As a result, it wasn’t a game for the backs, but Quins’ half-back pairing of Danny Care and Nick Evans were superb with ball in hand and their kicking game also produced the goods, including Care’s 66th-minute try as a neat chip over the top and a follow-up kick into space sent Care away, prompting a Romario-inspired try celebration after becoming a father for the first time. Lancaster has a selection headache across much of his backline, but undoubtedly Care is still his best scrum-half option and should be first-choice for next month’s internationals.
Castres started the game brightly, looking far from the side that has conceded an average of three tries a game and 30 points in the Top 14. It was fairly impressive defensive display from the French club that belied their performances in the league and is the first indication that form counts for nothing on European nights. They may have conceded 26 points in the first match in the new Champions Cup era, but 21 of those came from the accurate kicking off the tee by Quins’ Kiwi outside-half Evans, with 14 points and the only try of the match coming in the final quarter. Predictably, the weather and the amount of defensive work Castres were forced to do early on took its toll as their penalty count rose considerably in the second half, notably at the scrum, allowing Evans to keep kicking at goal. South Africa-born scrum-half Rory Kockott kept them in the game with some neat kicking, but they were ultimately outclassed, but not quite as much as some thought they would be. That said, they are still favourites to finish bottom of this pool with Leinster and Wasps still to come.
Welsh referee Nigel Owens is partial to a fast, open game, but even the much-considered best referee in world rugby couldn’t help with that on a wet and windy night in south-west London at the venue of May’s Challenge Cup final. After European rugby almost disappeared from the calendar amid the protracted row between club, unions and tournament organisers, it was far from a classic spectacle we have come to expect from arguably the sport’s best competition. There will be plenty of flair rugby to come though and the forwards can enjoy their moment in the spotlight for a few hours at least. If anything, it was a modest start – not quite a nightmare on a night when the BT Sport cameras had their first taste of Europe’s showpiece competition, but a mediocre appetiser to what should be a fantastic weekend of European rugby on Saturday and Sunday.
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