Cardiff Rugby were edged out by English champions, Harlequins, as they kicked off their 2021/22 season with a 12-try thriller.
In the first of two Anglo-Welsh pre-season encounters, Dai Young’s side dominated the opening 40 dotting down for four tries including an Alun Lawrence brace.
With the sides also set to meet in the Heineken Champions Cup later this season, the hosts fought their way back into the contest after the break, having introduced a number of their Premiership heroes from last season from the bench.
The outstanding Garyn Smith did strike for the visitors after the interval but Jack Kenningham’s late score secured the win in Tabai Matson's first game in charge.
The Blue and Blacks will be back in action next week as Bath Rugby visit the Arms Park for what promises to be another electric occasion under the Friday night lights.
The hosts got proceedings underway in front of a lively Twickenham Stoop atmosphere, but it was the away side, donning their new Macron home jersey, who looked dangerous in the opening exchanges.
A clever Smith offload put Jason Harries in space on the right hand side but while his chip ahead seemed to open up a promising try-scoring opportunity, play was brought back for a forward pass.
The early possession and initiative was rewarded as the visitors opened the scoring in London.
Ross Chisholm, looking to take advantage of the new 50:22 kicking laws, sent the ball out on the full, and from the resulting line-out it was the bulldozing run of centre Llewellyn who put the Blue and Blacks on the front foot.
Young’s side patiently went through the phases, with Lawrence and Smith making key carries as Cardiff progressed into the Quins’ 22. The ball was eventually fed short to Llewellyn, who crashed under the sticks to get the scoreboard ticking against his father’s former side.
Moments later a neat nudge from Smith, returning from a lengthy knee ligament injury, almost opened up an opportunity for a quickfire second. His opposite number, former Cardiff Met centre, Luke Northmore, was pinned back in his 22 and the pressure from the chase was enough to force a knock on.
Looking to play advantage, Jamie Hill targeted Harries out wide with a cross-field kick but the ball trickled dead.
However, the momentum had firmly swung in the visitors’ favour, and they added a second try after 15 minutes of action.
A stunning no-look pass from outside half Jason Tovey sent the all-action Smith coasting clear. The 26 year old centre had the composure to draw the final defender before feeding fellow academy graduate, Hill, on the inside, who had the legs to run in from 25 meters. Tovey added a second conversion to open up a 14-point lead.
Harlequins had their moments with the likes of Nick David and Huw Jones threatening with ball in hand, but as play entered the second quarter, Cardiff were over for a third.
Skipper Kirby Myhill made a dent in the Quins defence and managed to free his hands to find Ellis Jenkins in support. Soft hands from the Welsh international fed Llewellyn on the inside, forcing the home defence to scramble.
A couple of close-range carries later, number eight Lawrence was on hand to stretch his way to the whitewash.
There was a quick response from the home side as they finally registered on the scoreboard.
With Cardiff hunting a fourth first half score, a try-saving turnover deep in the 22 saw a chance for Scottish centre, Jones, to break from deep and bring play up to the halfway line.
Aled Summerhill and Matthew Morgan both made crucial defensive interventions but the determined hosts continued to attack and were rewarded as captain Tom Lawday powered over from close range.
The Blue and Blacks took a 19-point lead into the break after Tovey opted to go for the corner from a penalty.
A thunderous drive from Smith, who was thoroughly enjoying his return to action, put the visitors within a meter of the try-line, and back row Lawrence popped up to add his second of the afternoon.
The break saw a number of changed made, including academy lock Rhys Anstey, making his senior debut.
The home side came flying out of the blocks from the restart, with Louis Lynagh making immediate impact from the bench.
The hero of last season’s Gallagher Premiership final tore through the Cardiff defence and his offload gave Tyrone Green a simple run-in under the sticks.
The Blue and Blacks suddenly found their backs against the wall and despite a stern defensive set, Quins eventually paved their way through for a second try in seven minutes, with Lynagh dotting down in the corner.
Against the run of play, Cardiff struck back as Smith intercepted in midfield and was rewarded for his efforts throughout the afternoon with his side’s fifth try.
Summer signing Rhys Priestland was introduced shortly after to make his debut in the Blue and Black jersey.
And the flurry of tries continued as Andre Esterhuizen added a fourth for the hosts, converted by replacement Tommy Allen.
With 10 minutes remaining, the sides were all level as a scintillating break from Will Trenholm carved open the defence.
The England under-18 international was eventually halted by the final defender but Northmore, who had returned to the field from the bench, was a grateful recipient of the offload. The centre dotted down under the posts with the resulting conversion making it 33-points apiece.
Harlequins had found their stride as Jack Kenningham gave the hosts the lead for the first time with a fine finish, with George Hammond rounding off the win in the final play following a devastating counter and a fortuitous bounce of the ball.
Cardiff are ready to welcome old foes Bath Rugby to the Welsh capital on Friday in the final pre-season fixture ahead of the United Rugby Championship opener against Connacht Rugby on September 24.