Cardiff Rugby were pinned back by a fine second-half showing from Premiership champions Harlequins as they marked their pre-season opener with a 45-33 defeat at The Stoop.
A scintillating first-half display saw the visitors race away into a 26-7 lead at half-time, but they simply could not cope with a sensational Quins comeback.
Max Llewellyn set Cardiff on their way after just nine minutes, stretching just over the whitewash after some tidy build-up from Jason Harries on the left.
A well-worked advantage then allowed Jamie Hill to race away for a second just a few minutes later and, when Alun Lawrence scored either side of Tom Lawday’s try for the hosts, Cardiff seemed comfortable, with Jason Tovey also pitching in with six points from the tee before the break.
But Quins raced out of the blocks in fine style in the second half as Louis Lynagh’s pace burned a hole through the Cardiff defence just moments after the restart, allowing Tyrone Green to race away unopposed to score.
Lynagh, a star of Quins’ Premiership final win back in June, was at the centre of things once again just a few minutes later, latching on to a loose pass out wide to scamper beyond a powerless Harries to touch down.
Cardiff, without many of their big stars for the trip to London, then introduced new signing Rhys Priestland just before the hour, and the sight of the Wales international in a Cardiff shirt will have undoubtedly been a big plus for boss Dai Young.
As too will the return of Garyn Smith, who marked his comeback from a recent ACL injury by getting himself on the scoresheet, pouncing on a sloppy pass to dart through the heart of the Quins back line to go over.
But Quins kept knocking on the door, and reduced the deficit once more just moments later when South African full-back Andre Esterhuizen crashed over.
Despite reducing the gap to within seven points, the contest threatened to fizzle out heading into the final 10 minutes, with both sides making numerous substitutions in a bid to get minutes in the tank.
But Quins showed their quality to complete the comeback late on, taking advantage of some visibly tired legs in the Cardiff defence.
A magnificent move set Luke Northmore on his way down the left, and the 24-year-old produced a fine turn of pace to weave his way past several defenders to cross the line.
Then, just five minutes later, Quins took the lead for the first time as Jack Kenningham bamboozled the Cardiff back line before twisting over for another score.
There was still time for Quins to produce a moment for the cameras as George Hammand brilliantly tipped Lennox Anyawu’s cross-kick back to the lurking Will Trenholm to touch down.
Tommy Allan saw his last-minute conversion cannon off the woodwork, but his 10 points from the tee clearly proved pivotal in what was a fine second-half performance from his team.
For Cardiff, there will certainly be some disappointment at the way they failed to hold on to the lead, but there were otherwise some definite positives to take ahead of next Friday’s second friendly of pre-season at home to Bath.
Cardiff Rugby: Matthew Morgan; Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith, Max Llewellyn, Jason Harries; Jason Tovey, Jamie Hill; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill (capt), Will Davies-King, James Ratti, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins, Alun Lawrence.
Reps: Kristian Dacey, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Sean Moore, Rhys Anstey, Gwilym Bradley, Olly Robinson, Sam Moore, Ethan Lloyd, Rhys Priestland, Harri Millard, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.
Harlequins squad: Andre Esterhuizen, Archie White (capt), Cadan Murley, Cassius Cleaves, Connor Slevin, Craig Trenier, Dino Lamb, Fin Baxter, George Hammond, George Head, Hugh Tizard, Huw Jones, Jack Kenningham, Jack Stafford, Jack Walker, Lennox Anyanwu, Lewis Gjaltema, Louis Lynagh, Luke Northmore, Luke Wallace, Makeen Alikhan, Matt Symons, Nick David, Ross Chisholm, Sam Riley, Santiago Garcia Botta, Scott Steele, Simon Kerrod, Tom Lawday (capt), Tommy Allan, Tyrone Green, Will Edwards, Will Trenholm.