Harlequins out despite big win
Harlequins ran in seven tries as they claimed an impressive 47-19 bonus-point victory at Castres, but it was not enough to save them from exiting the European Champions Cup.
Wasps' epic second-half fightback to secure a draw against Leinster at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday afternoon meant Quins' efforts were in vain as they missed out on second spot in Pool Two by the slimmest of margins.
It also left Quins ruing their inability to break down Wasps at the Stoop last week as they only finished behind their Aviva Premiership rivals due to a marginally inferior head-to-head record, both clubs having ended with 18 points.
Quins quickly found their stride at Stade Pierre Antoine against a Castres side that had lost all five earlier European games and barely even had pride left to play for.
After being unable to find a way through Wasps defence last week, the visitors rejected the chance of easy points with their first kickable penalty of the game 11 minutes in, instead opting to kick to touch five metres from the hosts' line.
Their necessary adventure was instantly rewarded as captain Joe Marler emerged from the bottom of a mess of players following a well-executed training-ground lineout move.
Quins' ambition and Castres' general lack of confidence meant it was a messy first half, played in temperatures hovering around zero and with bitter sleety drizzle turning into wet snow.
The French side, who have shipped 99 points in their last two games - 49 against Stade Francais in the Top 14 two weeks ago and 50 against Leinster in Europe last weekend - and scored only 21 in reply, found a way through the Quins' defence after Mike Brown had knocked on behind his own line.
Eighteen-year-old scrum-half Antoine Dupont, given his first European start after being named in France's Six Nations squad for the Scotland match next month, scored under the posts after 20 minutes. Julien Dumora converted to level.
Quins were back in front five minutes later though, following another Castres mistake.
Winger Charlie Walker darted over from close range following another quickly-taken penalty after Castres were penalised at a five-metre scrum.
An error by the English side then brought Castres level again. Nick Evans, returning to Quins' starting line-up for the first time since the third round of European competition, missed touch with a penalty five metres from his own line, prompting a rare flowing Castres move which ended when Romain Cabannes dived over.
It was about the only blip in an otherwise near-perfect performance from man-of-the-match Evans.
Castres were reduced to 14 men shortly before half-time when Thomas Combezou was sin-binned for tackling off the ball. Quins immediately made the most of the man advantage, with Danny Care diving over for the visitors' third try to make it 21-14 at the break.
Quins did not let up even after Jack Clifford charged over eight minutes into the second half for their bonus-point score.
Shortly after winger Remy Grosso became the second Castres player to be sin-binned, replacement Quins prop Mark Lambert made the most of the wide-open spaces in the hosts' defence to score.
Marland Yarde raced over to score the visitors' sixth a minute later, following a mistake by Cedric Garcia, who had only just come on as a replacement for Dupont - by far Castres' best player.
Johnnie Beattie scored Castres' third try with just over 20 minutes to go, but there was never any realistic chance of a late fightback and Quins' George Lowe wrapped up the try-scoring in the dying seconds, with Evans slotting over his sixth conversion.