Louis Rees-Zammit proves his fitness to give Wales a lift
Louis Rees-Zammit weaved his magic as Gloucester climbed to third in the Gallagher Premiership after beating play-off rivals Harlequins 28-26 at Kingsholm.
The Wales wing’s first appearance since suffering an ankle injury eight weeks ago was capped by him scoring Gloucester’s bonus-point try four minutes from time.
He featured for more than 30 minutes in two spells off the replacements’ bench, emphatically proving his fitness ahead of Wales’ Guinness Six Nations appointment with England next week.
Quins looked on the way to a first league victory since early December through tries from replacement hooker Sam Riley, number eight Tom Lawday and wing Cadan Murley.
Fly-half Tommy Allan kicked two conversions but Gloucester were not to be denied as wing Ollie Thorley, hooker Seb Blake and fly-half Santiago Carreras also scored tries, with Carreras adding four conversions.
A late Quins try from Matias Jurevicius that Allan converted at least ensured that Quins left the west country with two bonus-points through scoring four tries and finishing less than seven points behind their opponents.
Rees-Zammit featured among the replacements, while prop Val Rapava-Ruskin, who recently signed a new club contract, made his 100th Gloucester appearance.
Quins scrum-half Danny Care clocked up a club record 352nd appearance for the London club, overtaking former England team-mate Mike Brown’s total, with four starting XV changes seeing starts for Murley, Jack Musk, James Chisholm and Luke Wallace.
Rees-Zammit made an early entry after Thorley went off following a collision with Murley, and Gloucester struck through a sixth-minute try.
Chisholm was yellow-carded by referee Luke Pearce, Gloucester kicked the resulting penalty to touch and Blake crashed over at the bottom of a driven lineout, with Carreras converting.
It was a miserable start for Quins, yet they delivered a maul try of their own after 12 minutes when Lawday touched down and Allan converted, before Thorley rejoined the action following a head injury assessment and Rees-Zammit returned to the bench.
Thorley immediately made his presence felt, catching Carreras’ superbly-placed kick and breaching Quins’ defence for his team’s second try inside the opening quarter.
Carreras’ conversion made it 14-7 and although Quins had plenty of possession and territory, handling errors and poor discipline often undermined their build-up play.
Gloucester finished the first half on top, yet they were unable to increase their advantage and Quins remained firmly in the contest.
Quins struck first after the interval, capitalising on aggressive close-quarter work by their forwards before possession was moved wide and Murley crossed.
Allan drifted the conversion attempt wide, and that was cue for Rees-Zammit to make a permanent entry, replacing Jonny May after 57 minutes, and he almost claimed a spectacular solo score.
He beat three defenders on a dazzling 30-metre run before touching down, but television replays showed a foot in touch and the try was disallowed.
And Gloucester’s agony at that near-miss was compounded four minutes later when Quins regained the lead through Riley after Care’s clever scoring pass, with Allan’s conversion putting the visitors five points in front.
Gloucester were not finished, though, and Carreras weaved his way over for what proved to be a critical moment, and he added the extras to his score and Rees-Zammit’s touchdown to leave his team firmly in contention to secure a top-four finish.
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