Quins win despite Evans blow
Nick Evans (AFP Photo)
Twickenham - Harlequins overcame the early loss of Nick Evans to make a triumphant start to their Heineken Cup campaign in a bruising clash as they beat Biarritz 40-13.
Evans, the Aviva Premiership champions' ringmaster, limped off just 17 minutes into the evening with his left ankle heavily strapped and was later using crutches.
But even without their fly-half and general, Quins were able to subdue Biarritz with his replacement Ben Botica proving a highly-capable deputy in a bonus-point victory at Twickenham Stoop.
Botica, who joined Quins this season and is the son of rugby league great Frano, kicked 18 points and showed a promising level of composure.
Evans, whose contract expires in May, is the subject of big money offers from Japanese and French clubs and should he leave, Botica's performance hinted he may be capable of filling his shoes.
Tries from Danny Care, Rob Buchanan, Jordan Turner Hall and Seb Stegmann also helped ensure the tournament's fifth favourites escaped a third successive defeat.
Biarritz have lost four of their eight Top 14 matches this season and were missing talismen Dimitri Yachvili and Imanol Harinordoquy to injury, but offered stiff resistance until they were overpowered in the second half.
Their defence was unlocked by a training-ground move with just six minutes on the clock.
A line-out was fed to Chris Robshaw who flicked the ball down to Care and the England scrum-half darted through the gap in front of him, side stepped winger Takudzwa Ngwenya and crossed.
Evans landed the conversion but Quins were suffering at the hands of referee George Clancy, Julien Peyrelongue missing one penalty but landing a second.
The first involvement by Botica after replacing Evans was to rifle over three points from long range.
Biarritz lost centre Dane Haylett-Petty to the sin-bin after he tackled Tom Williams in mid-air, yet managed to score the next try.
It was hardly a thing of beauty as hooker Arnaud Heguy drove over from close range, but with Peyrelongue converting and adding a second penalty, the Top 14 club crept 13-10 ahead.
Biarritz were doing a fine job of disrupting Quins' high-tempo game and with Evans gone, the English champions were locked in a hard-fought battle to escape a third successive defeat.
Botica was on target with three points to level the score and four minutes after half-time Quins were back in front through when Buchanan barged over.
The try followed some impressively physical play from Quins, who drove forward at a scrum and continued to flatten their opponents after changing the point of attack.
Botica threaded through a small gap to put the increasingly-dominant home side back on the front foot and the passage of play ended with the 23-year-old booting a penalty.
A dynamic break from Care, who enjoyed a superb evening, resulted in a fresh onslaught and this time Turner-Hall possessed the power to burrow over.
Botica converted and a flurry of substitutions followed as Quins, their job done, brought on fresh legs ahead of Saturday's trip to Connacht.
The bonus point was secured with two minutes left when good hands from Care and full-back Mike Brown sent Stegmann over on the corner.