Conor O’Shea breathed a sigh of relief after Danny Care’s hat-trick helped Harlequins fight off a superb London Irish performance to win 38-30 and book a European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final against Grenoble.
Both sides clearly came to play entertaining rugby, but Shane Geraghty’s boot kept Irish in-touch at half-time after Care and Luke Wallace crossed for the hosts, with Fergus Mulchrone going over for the Exiles.
Tom Coventry’s side were electric in the second-half – Brendan McKibbin burrowing over and Sean Maitland scoring a superb individual try for a 30-18 lead.
But Quins were not to be out-done and Wallace added another try, while Care completed a first ever hat-trick in professional rugby as O’Shea’s men put 20 unanswered points on Irish, who sit twelfth in the Aviva Premiership Rugby standings.
O’Shea, who is set to take over as Italy head coach next season, remains in the hunt for more silverware in what will be remembered as a glittering six-year spell at the South London club, and is happy his men came through a stern test of their title credentials.
“Games aren't won on paper. Every single team in the Premiership are full of proud players and no-one is going to roll over,” he said.
"We were inconsistent throughout the game with our energy levels going up and down far too much. We played from too deep in our territory in the first half and were guilty of overplaying.
"However we will take the win as we came from being 30-18 down to score 20 unanswered points when decisions were going again us."
Coventry’s side’s attention turned from their battle with Newcastle Falcons and he will no doubt be buoyed by his team’s performance – they looked lethal at times with ball-in-hand and many second-choice players stood up well against a team featuring the likes of Jamie Roberts and challenging for a top-four place.
Though displeased with the result, Coventry admitted it had given his men a timely boost ahead of their must-win clash against Falcons at Kingston Park.
"We are reasonably happy and we'll take it forward into our big game next week,” the New Zealander said.
“It was a big night for us and a quarter-final appearance deserved a big performance. We did a marvellous job and we nearly achieved the win we wanted.
"They brought on some big players in that final quarter and the loss of David Paice to the sin-bin was a big momentum swing in their favour.”
Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Lowe, Roberts, Visser, Botica, Care; Lambert, Gray (Ward, 45), Jones (Sinckler, 45), Merrick (Matthews, 51), Twomey, Robshaw, Wallace, Clifford Unused Replacements: Evans, Luamanu, Dickson, Marchant, Chisholm
London Irish: Fenby; Maitland, Mulchrone, Brophy Clews (Steele, 71), Fowlie; Geraghty, McKibbin (Allinson, 73); Smallbone (Court, 53), Paice, Halavatau (Palframan, 56), Lloyd (Curry, 77), Sinclair, Guest (Sisi, 56), Trayfoot (Ellis, 73), McCusker Unused Replacements: Cruse
Tries: Wallace 2, Care 3
Conversions: Botica 2
Tries: Mulchrone, McKibbin, Maitland
Conversions: Geraghty 3
Penalties: Geraghty 3
Referee: Marius Mitrea
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