Cardiff battled hard for a second week in a row with a makeshift matchday 23 but fell short against reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop.
Injuries to Iestyn Harris and Jason Tovey, as well as the covid isolation of Olly Robinson and Jacob Beetham being suspended meant Evan Yardley of the Rags started at hooker, Sam Moore got the nod at number eight, Dan Fish moved to fly-half, Josh Adams shifted to the wing and the free-to-play Rey Lee-Lo slotted in at centre, while the academy’s Cameron Winnett made his first team debut at full-back.
It was a rapid start from the Blue and Blacks though as a penalty allowed Fish to kick us into the corner before big carries from Moore and Ellis Jenkins set the platform for a delightful Fish double pump that put Winnett over for a debut try converted brilliantly by Tomos Williams.
Harlequins managed to hit right back as a well-worked multi-phase attack saw Marcus Smith put Jack Kennigham in space with a smart inside pass before an offload for Danny Care to go over, while insult was added to injury for Cardiff as Josh Adams was harshly shown a yellow card for a tip tackle in the build up.
Smith drew the scores level but even a man down the Blue and Blacks were in the game as Dan Fish’s tactical kicking pinned the home side back and eventually provided an attacking opportunity as Joe Marchant was forced to knock on inside his own five-metre line. The resulting scrum saw the forwards pick-and-go with James Botham the man to dive over for the score.
To finish off a back-and-forth opening quarter the Quins hit back in style as Smith scorched through the Cardiff defence, exchanged passes with Alex Dombrandt and scored a fine try which he proceeded to convert, and added a penalty shortly after.
Now back up to full strength the visitors were able to continue playing at a high tempo and looking to attack from everywhere, including turning defence into attack as Ellis Jenkins poached the ball at a breakdown and Seb Davies secured possession before producing a stunning offload that sent Theo Cabango away down the left wing to step past the last defender and score.
With the scores at 17-17 at half-time Cardiff were on the hunt for the lead and, crucially, the try bonus point, but Josh Adams being held up over the line from a first phase crash ball early in the second half was about as close as the Blue and Blacks got to taking a point back to Wales.
As the game approached the hour mark Harlequins’ fitness and quality began to show as Alex Dombrandt powered over from close range, then Joe Marchant got on the end of a perfectly weighted Marcus Smith kick-pass, before Dombrandt was back over when in possession at the back of a dominant maul, and then Andre Esterhuizen bullied his way across the line.
There was time for both teams to have tries ruled out in the latter stages, as Seb Davies saw a score chalked off for a Rey Lee-Lo knock on in the build up, and then Esterhuizen knocked on before Louis Lynagh hacked ahead to go over out wide.
In the end the score finished 43-17 to Harlequins but once again it was a brave performance from the mix-and-match Cardiff outfit who more than matched the reigning English champions in the first half and perhaps should have come away with at least a try bonus point, before the hosts showed their superior quality and strength in the end.
The game brings to an end an incredible two weeks for the Blue and Blacks though where players have stepped in to do themselves, their families and the club proud, as well as giving supporters real hope that the future is a very bright one as young players more than catch the eye.