Harlequins players salute their fans after a record-breaking comeback


Well, then. That was frankly astonishing. Harlequins looked devoid of shape and composure and were blown away by a performance from Bristol in those first 30 minutes in Saturday’s first Gallagher Premiership semi-final which was practically perfect. 

You could have forgiven the Bears supporters inside Ashton Gate for beginning to check train tickets to Twickenham for next weekend. Only to start quickly closing those apps on their phones as Harlequins began to produce what is now officially known as the greatest comeback in Premiership Rugby history. 

We’ve seen a few impressive turnarounds this season – there have been a couple in June alone – but nothing can top this. Here is how Harlequins pulled off the kind of miraculous act of escapology that would have made Houdini blush. Their excellent travelling support, with 500 fans enclosed in a corner of the Lansdown Stand, frankly deserved it after making Ashton Gate sound like The Stoop.

The deficit

As mentioned above, Bristol inside the opening half hour were red hot, producing some of their best rugby this season. Meanwhile, Harlequins from the off were just a little ragged. Here’s Joe Marchant, one of the senior players technically despite still being in his mid-20s, giving away a soft penalty at the breakdown for both his entry point and playing the scrum-half.


Bristol kick to the corner, earn a penalty off a maul to go 3-0 up. Then, despite this cracking tackle by young Louis Lynagh on Semi Radradra, Alex Dombrandt goes off his feet, and Sheedy makes it 6-0.


Then Bristol started raining down tries. There was a notable intent to take lineouts quickly and that approach contributed to the opening score. Charles Piutau produced some of his best rugby in a Bristol shirt during the first-half salvo and his interplay here with Andy Uren…


…ends up with Piutau combining with Radradra to set up Ben Earl to run to the corner. It’s outstanding play, and poor Quins lock Matt Symons (black scrum cap) doesn’t stand a chance of bringing Piutau down when he’s carving through like that. 11-0


🐻 Free-flowing @BristolBears at their very best!

Listen to the noise at Ashton Gate! ⚡️#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/4tYIaU2Cxz

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 19, 2021

The second try doesn’t happen without Piutau either, operating on another level at this point by pouncing for an intercept…


…before Bristol work the ball wide to finish in the other corner. Nathan Hughes can’t get the offload away, but there’s enough space for Malins to dart over. Ashton Gate is rocking. 16-0


The soft penalties kept coming from Quins, conceding five in the first 20 minutes while Bristol gave away none.

Bristol’s third try was just an easy bit of well-worked misdirection. Bristol from a five-metre scrum shape as if they’ll attack out wide on the right. Luke Morahan’s so wide he’s not even in the shot.

Instead, Nathan Hughes picks up, carries to the left and it’s the easiest try Malins will ever score. 21-0


Important note: While Bristol have scored three tries by this point, Sheedy has missed three conversions. That will matter later on.

Harlequins continue to keep giving away soft penalties. Here’s Lynagh going off his feet when he just doesn’t need to. It’s no wonder Harlequins struggled to build any momentum in Bristol’s half during the opening half hour. You can see Marcus Smith’s frustration at the bottom of the clip.


Bristol save the best try for last. It’s a first-phase lineout move but there are two moments of outstanding quality which deserve praise before the finish. First, this pass from the departing Siale Piutau, which cuts out three Harlequins defenders including the rushing-in Joe Marchant off the left wing.


Then you have Radradra’s no-look ball to a looping Malins, who has come off his left wing to help create the overlap. It’s timed perfectly….

Radradra's eyes 👀 #BRIvHAR pic.twitter.com/s6fUtHl6YX

— Ben Coles (@bencoles_) June 19, 2021

…Malins offloads, Morahan spins, and it’s Bristol’s fourth try inside 27 minutes and 16 seconds. With Sheedy’s conversion (his first), it’s 28-0 after less than 29 minutes. Bristol are rampant and Harlequins are in pieces.

Beautiful flowing rugby! 😍

The timing of Max Malins offload, no wonder he was smiling! 😛

Excellent sweeping move from the @BristolBears to put Morahan in and over the line. 👏#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/6qc7Dx20fA

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 19, 2021

The comeback

After one of Harlequins’ many penalties in the first half, referee Wayne Barnes said something poignant: “You’re chasing things you don’t need to chase." It summed up how frantic and disorganised Harlequins were. 

Harlequins to their credit almost score back straight away through Lynagh in the corner, but the replay shows Morahan has tackled him into touch. 

Oddly, going 28-0 down seemed to make them settle. Danny Care and Smith were more prominent, and Bristol start making mistakes, with Radradra spilling the ball in contact and then Malins, after scoring twice in the first half, missing a high ball. 

Dombrandt, who’d had a poor first half with knock-ons and missed tackles, doesn’t need a second invitation, picks up the ball and races away to score. It’s a lifeline going into half-time, with Harlequins down 28-5.


Straight out of half-time and with Harlequins’ first attack a fairly significant series of events happen. Care does well to win the ball back from Luke Northmore’s hack on…


…before Quins go wide and Charles Piutau, making a tackle on Ben Tapuai, suffers a concussion which would lead to him leaving the field and not return.


Harlequins win a penalty, Care taps and goes, Northmore crashes up, before Tyrone Green spins out of a tackle to score under the posts. Smith converts, 28-12.

What a start to the second half!! 😲

That's much more like it from @Harlequins, playing with pace and tempo ⚡

Tyrone Green makes the difference 👊#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/9YS6yErHJH

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 19, 2021

Bristol are still threatening though, and it takes a phenomenal effort from Wilco Louw, the Springbok tighthead who has been one of the signings of the season, to make this covering tackle on Morahan.


Then things get a bit strange. Andy Uren and Dave Attwood aren’t on the same wavelength and Uren’s pass balloons into the air with James Chisholm, fresh off the bench, brushing off Morahan to win the ball and racing over for Harlequins’ third try. Bristol now are creaking. The Harlequins supporters are getting louder. This couldn’t happen, could it? 28-19 


Quins’ best try is still to come. It’s Smith and Dombrandt at the peak of their powers, the No 8 crashing onto Smith’s well-timed pass before feeding Lynagh for a sprint to the line which he wins ahead of Ioan Lloyd. Pandemonium in the Harlequins corner of the Lansdown Stand. Quins have scored four tries in 15 minutes. 28-24

This is extraordinary! 🤯

Down 28-0, @Harlequins now have four unanswered tries of their own! 🃏

The travelling support love it! 🙌#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/mIX3w9jzul

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 19, 2021

Bristol need to settle and the arrival of Harry Randall seems to help. He nearly even scores, some brilliant footwork and then an offload from Radradra freeing Randall for a run to the line, stepping Green superbly to score. But the offload is forward. No try.

Then Harlequins wobble. They’re penalised for mis-timing a carry by Dombrandt off the lineout – encroaching into the 10-metre gap – giving Sheedy a shot at the posts which he lands to make the gap seven points. 31-24

Pat Lam, chatting to BT Sport, says: "You’ve got to love the game." He also notes that Bristol have been sloppy since before half-time.

Quins are now on top at the scrum through Joe Marler and Louw, and there’s space out wide they couldn’t find in the first half when Bristol’s rush defence shut them down. Green, up from full-back, keeps stepping defenders with ease, and sets up Lynagh for his second try… but this pass is also forward!

We’re inside the final 10 minutes and here comes the pivotal moment. Sheedy, in the pocket for a drop goal, opts to run instead to the left, where Lynagh pounces for a brilliant turnover. Three points there and Bristol would have been clear.


Harlequins attack from the penalty, and make the space out wide on the left for Green to put Marchant away down the touchline. It’s another first-phase try. Simply extraordinary. The timing of Green’s pass is perfect. Smith must convert to level the scores… and does. 31-31


Joe Marchant over for the try and Marcus Smith nails the [email protected] are level! 🃏#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/htyLqFU0Ks

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 19, 2021


Neither side can score before full-time, with Marler’s knock-on taking us historically into extra-time for the first time in a semi-final. Bristol at this point are out on their feet.

It’s worth noting that had the score remained tied on 31-31 at the end of extra-time, Harlequins would have won having outscored Bristol by five tries to four. 

A lot of the play is ragged but Earl comes up with a superb breakdown penalty giving Sheedy a chance to put Bristol ahead again. Except he hits the right-hand post.


With the clock in the red at the end of the first half of extra-time, Harlequins find more space out wide down the left, thanks to Lynagh coming off his wing to combine with Green. Tapuai’s pass little pass is timed perfectly in midfield.


From here Quins have the momentum and Bristol are scrambling. Care has a dart himself short of the line but is just about stopped. Harlequins then have successive scrums, and they come wide to the right…

You're not stopping Tyrone Green! 💥

For the first time this afternoon, @Harlequins lead! 🃏

Twickenham is within touching distance!#GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/UjdfiB1HRH

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 19, 2021

Smith’s pass is timed perfectly, but it’s Green’s ability to decelerate, then step a covering Radradra which is astonishing. Smith converts. Comeback complete. Harlequins chant "Is this a library?" with Ashton Gate stunned into silence. 31-38

Naturally, given this remarkable fixture, we weren’t finished for drama. Marler and Care depart after heroic 90-minute-plus shifts. Bristol show impressive patience to hit back with a try, waiting for the overlap to appear before Radradra puts Malins over in the left corner for his hat-trick. 

They still trail Harlequins in terms of tries scored by one, so a conversion and tied scoreline would only mean Harlequins win, hence Sheedy going for a rushed, drop-kicked conversion, which almost comically hits the cross bar. Bristol need another try to reach Twickenham. Everyone in the ground has lost their mind. 36-38


Bristol are battered but grafting. There’s no Radradra, no Hughes, no Charles Piutau. The clock is ticking. Harry Thacker’s legs seem to simply stop working as he’s helped off the field.

Bristol desperately attack with a minute left but it’s a tired pass by Randall, understandably, picked off by the hard-working Martin Landajo. Then Bristol win it back. But hold on, Northmore, rushing up to make a tackle on Siale Piutau, forces a final turnover. This tackle incredibly would lead to our first TMO review for a dangerous tackle in over 100 minutes worth of action.


Harlequins play on and finish with a flourish…

🃏 Harlequins are off to Twickenham for the #GallagherPremFinal!

From 0-28 down, Quins pull off the most magnificent comeback to win 36-43 at Ashton Gate 👏

This match will live long in the memory! #GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/lI8ZN5I5h3

— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 19, 2021

…but was the tackle high? Referee Wayne Barnes takes a long look. If it’s not a penalty offence, the game is over following Marchant’s try. Bristol’s fans are incensed. 


Here’s the ruling from the TMO Stuart Terheege and Barnes:

There’s no clear head contact. It’s a legal tackle. No contact to the head.

The try stands. Harlequins have won. What an absurd, ridiculous comeback from trailing 28-0. We all need to go for a lie down. Full-time: Bristol 36-43 Harlequins