Harlequins boss Paul Gustard lauded his side’s second-half performance against ASM Clermont Auvergne in their European Challenge Cup loss.

After going down by as many as 24 thanks to some brilliance from Fritz Lee, Damian Penaud and Morgan Parra, Harlequins bossed the closing stages and almost completed a famous comeback.

Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw, James Lang and Alex Dombrant all crossed to give the Gallagher Premiership side hope - but it was too little, too late as Quins were downed 32-27.

Quins will travel to league leaders Exeter Chiefs next week with hopes of consolidating fourth spot in Gallagher Premiership Rugby.

A positive Gustard commented: “As a coach, we’re really proud of the effort and there’s a lot of lessons we can take from there.

“You have to be positive [about the final three games] - our defence was exceptional today.”

Many feared that, going into the semi-final on a four game losing streak in Gallagher Premiership Rugby, Quins would struggle - but a vivacious performance against the second-placed side in Top 14 was encouraging.

“This is a team that averages six tries at home - and has been unbeaten at home for a long period of time,” he added.

“They scored eight tries against Northampton last week and just two against us today - and both of them came from missed tackles.

“Our system and our shape was good - the enthusiasm and energy from our defence was exceptional, and we scored four.

“We’re hurting because that’s a game we could have won, but we’ll take the positive out of today.

“I’m sure the fans will be proud that we went toe-to-toe with a European heavyweight on the journey we’ve been on - from almost getting relegated last season - shows the progress that’s being made.”

However, the Quins manager was disappointed in his team’s early capitulation as they went down 32-8 early in the second period.

He added: “Unfortunately we fell short by small margins - we started really well but our lineout hasn’t been functioning to the level to the level it has been over the last month.

“It meant we couldn’t sustain momentum or put pressure on them - and ultimately, the second try of the game came from a lost lineout.”