London Irish 24-29 Harlequins, Aviva Premiership, September 3
Harlequins edge out Irish
September 3, 2011
Quins hold on against Irish%]
Harlequins made a winning start to the new Aviva Premiership campaign with a hard-fought 29-24 victory over London Irish in their clash at Twickenham.
Tries from prop James Johnston and winger Ugo Monye along with a typically assured all-round display from fly-half Nick Evans carried Quins to victory in the first match of the traditional season-opening double header at English rugby's HQ. Two second half tries from winger Ugo Monye and the boot of fullback Tom Homer kept Irish in the contest throughout but they could not overhaul their rivals and had to settle for a losing bonus point.
A lively opening from Quins was rewarded with an early Evans penalty after Irish loose-head Max Lahiff was guilty of coming in from the side at the breakdown. The Exiles did not dwell on the setback with winger Marland Yarde dancing his way to within a metre of Quins' line before being hauled down. Quins were then penalised at the breakdown as they attempted to snuff out the danger and Homer levelled things up from the kicking tee.
Brutal collisions littered the opening exchanges with the boots of Evans and Homer provided only temporary relief as both sides looked to dictate proceedings. Quins weathered some big hits to carve the first real opening with centre George Lowe powering into the 22 before feeding fullback Mike Brown who was tackled in sight of the line. The ball was then recycled with scrum-half Karl Dickson among those to pepper the Irish line before Johnston's sizeable frame carried him over from the short range for the opening try that was converted by Evans.
Back came Irish with centre Dan Bowden ghosting through for big gains before finding Topsy Ojo only for the winger to be swiftly shackled. A penalty offered Irish the chance to register an almost immediate response but Homer failed to find the target. But they maintained the momentum with a delicate chip through from Bowden causing further concern and leading to another penalty that this time was kicked to the corner.
No.8 Chris Halaufia powered towards the line from a stable lineout only for Quins prop Joe Marler to intervene illegally and as a result he was sent to the sin-bin as Homer slotted an easy three. A reckless challenge from Ojo on Brown then drew a warning from the referee but the challenge did little to hinder Quins' progress. Winger Ugo Monye cut a fine line into the heart of Irish's 22 only to spill the ball under pressure from scrum-half Paul Hodgson with Homer forced into desperate measures to secure the ball behind his own line.
Quins fly-half Nick Evans delivered another assured display to steer his side to victory © Getty Images
Irish's failure to roll away at the breakdown a few moments later handed Evans the chance to extend his tally and his second penalty used up precious time and stretched Quins' lead to seven points. Brown was not so clinical with his next clearance sailing out on the full and from the lineout Irish streamed forward with quick hands creating the opening for flanker Kieran Roche only for Ojo's final pass fail to go to hand.
A lengthy delay preceded the half-time break with Quins No.8 Tom Guest forced out the game with what looked like an arm injury. But Quins regrouped sufficiently to deny Irish the final say in the opening period.
Irish dragged themselves back into the contest with a try early in the second half. A big tackle from Hala'ufia in midfield punctuated a scrappy opening before Bowden pounced on a loose clearance before skipping down the touchline. With the Quins defence nowhere to be seen, the Kiwi centre offloaded the ball to Ojo on his inside who coasted in for a try with Homer adding the simple extras.
Stung into action, Evans orchestrated Quins' response with a mazy run from Brown carving the Irish defence opening before Johnston ignored an overlap to cut inside where the ball was eventually lost. They wasted little time on that missed opportunity and were soon knocking on the door again with further pressure drawing the latest penalty that Evans landed to reclaim the lead for his side.
Yarde re-emerged as an attacking threat from the kick off and his initial foray into Quins' 22 led to a sweeping move that ended with replacement Alex Gray flicking the ball back inside to Ojo who happily accepted his second try of the game. Homer failed to add the conversion and his miss was compounded by a simple three for Evans a few moments later that saw the lead changes hands once again.
And it would soon get better for Quins. A charge down in midfield had Irish scampering back in defence and as they re-grouped the ball was worked wide to Monye who rode a last-ditch tackle from Homer to touch down in the corner for a try - with the Television Match Official called on to confirm the score. Evans' superb conversion from the touchline heaped further woe on Irish who emptied their bench in a bid to reverse their fortunes.
Homer clawed three points back to make it a five-point game with a quarter of an hour remaining but an offside penalty allowed Evans to immediately cancel his latest effort out. Irish rallied well with a penalty allowing them to kick to the corner for the lineout as the game entered the final five minutes and an offside penalty enabled Homer to reduce the arrears once more and put his side within losing bonus point range.
A late penalty gave Irish one last chance to rescue the game centre Jonathan Joseph was robbed of the ball the victory belonged to Quins.
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