Marcus Smith, who has played at fly-half and full-back for England, attacks the Cardiff defence

Investec Champions Cup – Cardiff 15-54 Harlequins: English side enjoy thumping win

Marcus Smith, who has played at fly-half and full-back for England, attacks the Cardiff defenceMarcus Smith has played at fly-half and full-back for EnglandInvestec Champions CupCardiff (15) 15Tries: Young 2 Con: de Beer Pens: de BeerHarlequins (28) 54Tries: Walker, Esterhuizen, Evans, Beard, Smith, Lewis, Baxter, Green Cons: Smith 7

Harlequins are on the brink of an Investec Champions Cup knockout place after a bonus-point, eight-try hammering of Cardiff.

England fly-half Marcus Smith scored 19 points, with further tries from Jack Walker, Andre Esterhuizen, Will Evans, Oscar Beard, Fin Baxter, Tyrone Green and former Cardiff prop Dillon Lewis.

In contrast, Cardiff are facing Champions Cup elimination in Pool 2.

Home flanker Thomas Young scored two tries in an outstanding display.

Young’s performance was especially impressive as he was playing his first game since suffering a calf injury in November.

It was another Arms Park thriller played in front of a capacity crowd of 12,000 for a second consecutive fixture after the ground was sold out for Cardiff’s victory against Dragons in the United Rugby Championship (URC) on 26 December.

  • Investec Champions Cup: Who will qualify for the knockout stages?
  • Sale confirm talks with in-demand Wales wing Grady

There was almost a capacity crowd in Cardiff’s European defeat against Bath in December 2023, with both Anglo-Welsh occasions fuelling the desire of fans who want the two nations to combine in a league format.

For all the attacking endeavour and entertainment, there was a noticeable gulf in class between the two sides with Harlequins currently second in the Gallagher Premiership and scrum-half Danny Care dictating matters.

It was a chastening night for Cardiff, who have lost all three European matches after previous defeats against Bath and Toulouse and are bottom of Pool 2.

Matt Sherratt’s side finish their campaign against Racing 92 in Paris next Saturday hoping to finish fifth out of six in their group, which could lead to dropping down into the second-tier European Challenge Cup.

Harlequins, who gained a fine victory against Racing 92 in Paris but thrashed by Toulouse, are third in the standings and finish at home against Ulster next weekend.

Fast start in vain as Smith sparkles

Cardiff flanker Thomas Young scored the first try of the evening against Harlequins in his first game in six weeksCardiff flanker Thomas Young scored the first try of the evening against Harlequins in his first game in six weeks

Read More:   Armando Broja transfer news: Fulham sign Chelsea striker on loan

Young was one of five Cardiff changes with flanker Alex Mann prop Rhys Carre, centre Willis Halaholo and wing Harri Millard starting, but Wales wing Josh Adams was still missing with a leg injury.

Lewis was among the Harlequins replacements, but another old Arms Park favourite Jarrod Evans was injured.

Links between the two clubs also included Harlequins coaching staff members Danny Wilson, Billy Millard and Adam Jones, who were all former coaches or players at Cardiff.

Smith, 24, led his side out on his 150th Harlequins appearance, but the English club were missing injured prop Joe Marler.

There was a moment of applause to mark the death of former Wales and British and Irish Lions full-back JPR Williams before Cardiff opened the scoring with a Tinus de Beer penalty.

They also produced an ingenious first try as they isolated Care with a clever de Beer chip kick which was collected by towering lock Seb Davies before he released the rampaging Young.

An off-the-ball altercation between Young and James Chisholm followed after sloppy restart work from the hosts, before Harlequins responded with a try from hooker Walker after a flawless driving line-out. Smith converted.

Full-back Cam Winnett was forced off the field for a head injury assessment (HIA) and replaced by Ben Thomas.

The alteration failed to disrupt the hosts as Young claimed his second try with Millard involved twice, giving the final pass which was not deemed forward.

Scrum-half Tomos Williams, who has announced he is leaving for Gloucester next season, was also heavily involved. De Beer, outstanding in defence, converted from the touchline.

Quins again responded with a well-worked try which ended with centre Esterhuizen powering down the left-hand side.

Smith converted before brilliantly launching a counter-attack from his own line which almost ended in a try.

A superb high catch from full-back Green set the platform for flanker Evans to power over for the visitors’ third converted try.

Centre Beard gained the bonus-point try as he scythed through the Cardiff defence, with a desperate cover tackle from Mason Grady failing to deny him after multiple television replays were viewed.

Smith converted to give Harlequins a 28-15 half-time lead in an opening 40 minutes that produced six tries.

Read More:   Lisandro Martinez: Manchester United defender to miss eight weeks through injury

Captain Liam Belcher, struggling in the first half with injury, was replaced by Efan Daniel before Harlequins continued where they left off with Smith grabbing the fifth try.

There were pantomime boos for Lewis when he scored, while prop Baxter demonstrated the power of the visitors before full-back Green completed the rout.

Cardiff head coach Matt Sherratt said: “We were beaten by a better side in most areas tonight so we have no complaints. We had energy for the first 30 minutes, were really competitive and scored some nice tries.

“But we gave them a few easy returns straight after our scores through some naivety and the score just before half-time seemed to take the legs from us.

“When that happens against the likes of Danny Care and Marcus Smith and the firepower they have around them, they’re going to hurt you.”

Harlequins head coach Danny Wilson: “I am really pleased, the boys played well tonight. We had huge respect for this Cardiff team the way they have been playing recently.

“Matt (Sherratt) and the staff are doing a superb job considering the cards they were dealt at the beginning of the season.

“What was pleasing was we showed we can play different ways. The high-speed attractive rugby with X-factor players we have got that is associated with Quins but we can go to a strangle game with a set-piece dominance. More than 50 points is a good nights work.”

Cardiff: Cam Winnett; Harri Millard, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Mason Grady; Tinus de Beer, Tomos Williams; Rhys Carre, Liam Belcher (capt), Keiron Assiratti, Teddy Williams, Seb Davies, Alex Mann, Thomas Young, James Botham.

Replacements: Efan Daniel, Corey Domachowski, Rhys Litterick, Rory Thornton, Mackenzie Martin, Ellis Bevan, Ben Thomas, Owen Lane.

Harlequins: Tyrone Green; Nick David, Oscar Beard, Andre Esterhuizen, Cameron Anderson; Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Fin Baxter, Jack Walker, Will Collier, Joe Launchbury, George Hammond, James Chisholm, Will Evans, Alex Dombrandt (capt).

Replacements: Nathan Jibulu, Jordan Els, Dillon Lewis, Irne Herbst, Chandler Cunningham-South, Will Porter, Lennox Anyanwu, Louis Lynagh.

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)

Assistant referees: Peter Martin (Ireland) & Sam Holt (Ireland)

TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)