Pat Lam determined to stay positive after Marcus Smith and Quins maul Bears
We are still getting our heads around that epic encounter.
Marcus Smith entered the fray with his team's head on the chopping block. By the end of the match, he had made another compelling case to start for England.
Last season, on their way to Premiership glory, Harlequins staged a semi-final comeback against Bristol, at Ashton Gate, that was dubbed 'Bristanbul'. On Friday, they did it again.
21-0 down after 26 minutes and with outhalf Tommaso Allan limping off, Quins were left with another mountain to climb. Fortunately for the reigning champs, they had Marcus Smith coming on to replace the injured Italian.
What we witnessed over the next hour or so was a statement sent out by Harlequins to the rest of the league. This is our crown and you're going to have to do better than that to take it from us.
The comeback began with a Louis Lynagh try just before the half-hour mark. Callum Sheedy briefly quietened The Stoop with a penalty that left it 24-7 at the break, but the home fans were in their element when Lynagh scored again, after 47 minutes.
Bristol, having been stung so badly by that semi-final comeback, lost the run of themselves. On 51 minutes, Bristol back-row Jake Heenan was sin-binned and Andre Esterhuizen crossed for Quins' third try. It was only a matter of time before the hosts scored again. Luke Northmore came on, after 53 minutes, and soon dashed over for the levelling score. Smith's conversion put them ahead for the first time.
What followed was pure fun and destruction.
Will Collier jinked over for his first professional try, after over 130 games, and Bristol looked out on their feet when fullback Tyrone Green got over for another.
The game was over as a contest but Bristol had poked the bear, and it was not finished mauling them. With eight minutes left on the clock, Smith took matters into his own hands:
Still trying to get our heads around last night 🤯
Marcus Smith is pure class pic.twitter.com/iYfHwioBBQ
— House of Rugby (@HouseOfRugby) October 9, 2021
As if that was not enough, the final smack flush in the nose was delivered by the ever-ready Alex Dombrandt.
The Quins No.8 had already made 57 metres off seven carries, stuck 17 tackles and assisted for two tries. He helped himself to the final try of the game with a bullocking carry that would have seen a white towel tossed in, had this been another sport.
And that was that. From 24-7 down to winning 52-24.
Anyone that wants to take the title off Harlequins had better come with a serious game-plan, a deep bench and an 80-minute performance. At the end, all Bristol boss Pat Lam could do was puff out his cheeks and say he hoped the neutrals enjoyed the carnage.
"We know they're a good attacking side. We talked about it at half-time - and how they were going to come back - to keep the ball we've got to win the breakdown... We were destroyed at the breakdown," admitted Lam, the former Connacht coach. "We've just got to get ourselves back together and go to Newcastle."
We know that England coach Eddie Jones does not appreciate the media nudges for Test selection - just look at Sam Simmonds - but even he must be looking at this vibrant Harlequins side and thinking what they could do for his team. What a shot in the arm many of these lads would be.
Many in the Quins set-up, like Dino Lab, Joe Marchant and Cadan Murley, will be pressing for November internationals squad selection. Others from Quins - Alex Dombrandt, Marcus Smith and veterans Joe Marler and Danny Care - are screaming out for starts.
Should Jones really wish to mix power with panache for the Test season ahead, he can surely look no further than what Harlequins are serving up each weekend.