Alex Dombrandt’s belated heroism is worth Harlequins’ thrilling win over Castres | Champions Cup

Mark this as another for the album. Harlequins simply don’t know when they are beaten and on this occasion it was their captain, Alex Dombrandt, who proved the hero, completing his hat-trick in the 85th minute to claim another spectacular victory.

In doing so, he broke the hearts of Castres – with the French side coming agonizingly close to a place in the knockout stages – and sent a timely reminder of his talents to Eddie Jones. It seems that no matter the situation, provided the Harlequins are within reach when the clock turns red, they will find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

This time, it was normal that it was Dombrandt who offered the decisive test since he was their best interpreter. The composition of Eddie Jones’ squad appears to have created an opening at the No.8 and, although Dombrandt has his rivals, few would blame him for a Six Nations start against Scotland.

Granted, he leaves his club duties in great style, tipping this chaotic and highly entertaining game in favor of Harlequins. “I said it from the start – he’s a special player and he creates moments,” said Harlequins coach Tabai Matson. “There are very few people in his position who can do that. I think he would make a difference at the next level.

Both teams finished with five tries and, had Castres held on, they would have left defending champions Toulouse staring down the barrel of elimination. Given that they have already threatened the tournament organizers with legal action, this can probably be a dodged bullet for the EPCR. You have to feel for Castres, though, so maligned for how they can be poor on their travels but tough to the bitter end here.

The bottom line for Toulouse, who had to forfeit Cardiff at the weekend, is that they are much more likely to qualify for the knockout stages, but their fate is still not in their hands. The Harlequins, meanwhile, are in second place in their pool and with four out of four wins, each crazier and more dramatic than the last.

Castres had not won an away game in the tournament since December 2012, but within the first five minutes they had taken an 8-0 lead. Ben Botica, against his former club, kicked in a direct penalty before captain and hooker, Gaëtan Barlot, struck in with the first down of a clever fielding move. Harlequins were in shock when Antoine Zeghdar dashed through a gap for another Castres try, but the Premiership champions fought back to regain a 19-16 lead.

Dombrandt first showed his class with a finish in a tight left and, although Botica added another penalty, Huw Jones pounced on the loose ball under the posts before Viliami Taulani burst in from close range . A yellow card for Joe Marler for crossing a ruck, however, played an important role in Castres’s lead in the interval.

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Another clever fielding move freed Filipo Nakosi on the left and he freed Rory Kockott to navigate. Botica converted before a Tommy Allan penalty reduced the deficit to one point. Dombrandt’s second try, completing an overlap, netted the bonus point but Castres fired back through Nakosi and the impressive Adrea Cocagi before the No.8 Harlequins had the last laugh, pressing the ball down the line. He was granted the try by the referee, Mike Adamson, after consultation with the TMO.

“There is a sense of relief,” Matson added. “We manage to close the stages of the European group with four victories and we have qualified for the second stages, but jeepers. I understand that it seems to be the way here. I disagree with that, but that seems to be the way.

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