Gloucester Rugby paid the price for a lacklustre second half at home to Harlequins as Marcus Smith slotted a late penalty to earn a 25-27 Gallagher Premiership victory for the visitors.
It was an end to end encounter throughout, with the lead changing hands several times, and the drama continued right until the final whistle as Gloucester Rugby pushed for the score that would have sealed a dramatic win only for the Harlequins defence to hold firm.
It was a big moment for the visitors and a big win. After a disappointing defeat at Bristol last weekend, they crucially edged the second half at Kingsholm on Saturday afternoon and hung on for a narrow win.
The Cherry and Whites will be desperately disappointed to lose their home record so early in the season, especially having battled back from deficits in the first and second half to take the lead.
They will look back wryly on a number of key decisions that didn’t go their way, but they also had their chances to win the game and didn't take them.
Harlequins were tenacious opponents and could never quite be shaken off. The visitors certainly took control in the second half as they wrested the momentum from the Cherry and Whites and, in the final reckoning, probably deserved the win.
Gloucester Rugby will need to dust themselves off and get back on the horse pretty quickly because a tough trip to Wasps lies in wait next weekend. A lot of hard work will be done in training this week, no doubt.
The first hint of a scoring opportunity on the day went Gloucester Rugby’s way as Quins offloaded carelessly as they tried to run out of their 22. Charlie Sharples pounced on the loose ball but the visitors muscled up in defence.
Quins actually started the game in confident fashion, keeping the ball alive through multiple phases with backs and forwards handling the ball in confident style. The Gloucester Rugby defence was being tested early.
The Cherry and Whites didn’t have much ball to work with in the opening ten minutes or so, but did look lively when they finally got some front foot ball only for a knock on to halt the momentum as they approached the Quins 22.
However, Gloucester Rugby struck on 13 minutes and it was a beauty. Jake Polledri steamed on to a short pass from Mark Atkinson and burst clear. The flanker drew the last man and Danny Cipriani was in support to sprint home for his first Gloucester Rugby try.
The Cherry and Whites had their tails up, but were then dealt a sucker punch as Lewis Ludlow couldn’t hold onto a pass from Cipriani with the defence stretched and Nathan Earle pounced to snaffle the loose ball and run it back all the way to score.
And Earle promptly made it two in two minutes as Quins broke a tackle from the restart, before Joe Marchant made a midfield break and timed the final pass well to Earle who just about made the line. Lang converted from out wide for a 5-12 lead after 20 minutes.
The home team looked to strike back and came close after good work from the pack. It was fractious stuff up front with both packs squaring up as Quins defended their line with everything they had. A warning was given to both teams by referee JP Doyle.
Quins got away with some questionable defending at the following catch and drive, then conceded a penalty for offside in front of the posts and Cipriani took the easy three points on offer to make it 8-12.
Lang then missed a straightforward penalty chance when Gloucester Rugby were caught offside chasing a kick ahead, the Kingsholm crowd making their displeasure known regarding the refereeing decisions.
The niggle on the pitch continued and, eventually, JP Doyle’s patience ran out and Matt Symons was yellow carded as the home team threatened again. Cipriani’s second penalty narrowed the gap to 11-12.
And, with half-time approaching, Gloucester Rugby re-took the lead. Mark Atkinson made a key offload out of the tackle, Ben Vellacott took it on and timed his pass perfectly for Charlie Sharples to go over untouched. With a hint of a forward pass earlier in the move, Cipriani took a quick conversion for the 18-12 lead.
Gloucester Rugby had responded well after Earle’s dual body blow but, with no time left on the clock, conceded a needless penalty at a ruck just outside their 22 and James Lang slotted the penalty to make the half-time score 18-15.
It had been a pulsating 40 minutes of rugby with both teams determined to keep the ball alive and move it wide when possible. And both sides looked dangerous in attack – Gloucester Rugby had had to work harder for their scores with Quins fortunate with one of theirs.
There had been plenty of niggle, it obviously meant a lot to both teams. But the game was certainly in the balance at half-time and it was difficult to predict a winner at this point.
Both teams started the second half in similarly expansive fashion, but it was Quins who drew level on 46 minutes when Lang kicked a penalty for holding on the tackle after a good defensive set from the Cherry and Whites went unrewarded.
Gloucester Rugby sought to get their noses back in front, but were wasteful in possession over the next few minutes, gifting vital possession and territory to the visitors. It was a frustrating period for the home team and their supporters.
And that feeling of frustration grew when another turnover was compounded by conceding a penalty, and replacement fly-half Marcus Smith gave the visitors a narrow 18-21 lead with the hour mark approaching and then extended the lead with another penalty on 66 minutes.
It was all looking good for the visitors at this point, with all the moment behind them. But they perhaps switched off for a crucial second and Gloucester Rugby pounced, attacking the blindside with Tom Hudson putting Charlie Sharples away for his second. Cipriani kept his nerve to kick the conversion and edge his team in front by 25 points to 24.
Marcus Smith then had a couple of ‘almost’ moments as he firstly missed a penalty and then slipped when breaking clear. However, the fly-half kept his cool with two minutes left to play when he kicked the vital go-ahead penalty when the Cherry and Whites were penalised at a set scrum in their own 22.
It was slightly controversial as Harlequins, who had just brought on an entirely new front row, looked to get the shove on early, but referee JP Doyle seemingly saw nothing wrong.
Throwing caution to the wind, Gloucester Rugby chanced their arm as they attacked down the left and earned a five metre scrum. Clean possession was had to come by, but the Cherry and Whites found themselves in front of the posts.
A drop goal looked to be a possibility, but the ball was shipped left where an opening had been spotted but Matt Banahan was tackled into touch and the chance and the game were gone.