Danny Care scored a hat-trick as Harlequins clinched a thrilling 38-30 victory at Twickenham Stoop to book a semi-final against FC Grenoble in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
Quins led 18-16 at half-time through scores from Luke Wallace and Danny Care, but Fergus Mulchrone’s try and Shane Geraghty’s boot gave the visitors hope.
Twelfth-placed Aviva Premiership Rugby side were ahead for the vast majority of the second-half after tries from Brendan McKibbin and Sean Maitland, with Geraghty in supreme kicking form.
Ben Botica spurned several chances from the tee, but once Irish had built a 12-point lead, Harlequins sparked into life and scored 20 unanswered points as Wallace completed his double and Care crossed twice.
Geraghty opened the scoring with a penalty for Irish, but Quins responded well, playing with pace and Care dictating tempo superbly, but it was the exceptional Yarde who made the breakthrough after just seven minutes.
The winger put George Lowe through a gap up the left touchline before the ball was moved in-field and he collected a sharp Botica pull-back to beat two defenders and shifted the ball for Wallace to dot down. Botica missed the touch-line conversion.
Geraghty pegged back the hosts five minutes later, but Care intercepted McKibbin’s pass and galloped over from half-way. Botica added the extras.
Exiles playmaker Geraghty added another penalty before Tim Visser failed to deal with a loose ball and Mulchrone was quickest to react and dived over, Geraghty thumped the conversion over to bring Irish within a point.
Irish gained an unlikely lead as Quins were penalised again – this time for going off their feet at a ruck – and Geraghty continued his excellent form from the tee.
Botica completed a topsy-turvy first half with a penalty of his own to send Quins in 18-16 at the break.
Coventry’s side began the second-half confidently. They set up an excellent driving maul deep in Quins’ 22 and when they barrelled over the line, it was McKibbin who managed to ground the ball. Geraghty was unerring again with the boot to make the score 23-18.
Botica missed a chance to reduce the deficit seven minutes into the half, but it was 14-man Irish, with David Paice in the sin-bin, who struck next as Maitland produced a moment of magic to glide through a gaping hole in a badly organised Quins defence and – with Mike Brown out of position – run in from halfway, with Geraghty adding the conversion to give Irish a 30-18 lead.
O’Shea’s men showed all their fighting spirit to strike almost immediately back, with the hosts lifting the tempo and piling into the Irish 22 and Care was eventually dived over again among a tangle of bodies. Botica missed his conversion again.
Quins almost went over again moments later, but the TMO ruled that Chris Robshaw had grounded the ball just short and Irish escaped unscathed.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, Kyle Sinckler and Dave Ward earned a scrum penalty that Botica stuck in the corner and Wallace broke from the back of a tightly packed maul and rolled over to complete his brace. Botica failed iled to level the scores with another missed conversion.
Botica’s next kick came right in front of the posts and he duly put Quins 31-30 ahead with under ten minutes remaining, but it was captain Care who iced the Quins cake when he latched onto the back of a strong driving maul to complete his hat-trick.
Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Lowe, Roberts, Visser, Botica, Care; Lambert, Gray, Jones, Merrick, Twomey, Robshaw, Wallace, Clifford
Replacements: Ward, Evans, Sinckler, Matthews, Luamanu, Dickson, Marchant, Chisholm
London Irish: Fenby; Maitland, Mulchrone, Brophy Clews, Fowlie; Geraghty, McKibbin; Smallbone, Paice, Halavatau, Lloyd, Sinclair, Guest, Trayfoot, McCusker
Replacements: Cruse, Court, Palframan, Curry, Sisi, Ellis, Allinson, Steel
Tries: Wallace 2, Care 3
Conversions: Botica 2
Penalties: Botica 3
Tries: Mulchrone, McKibbin
Conversions: Geraghty 3
Penalties: Geraghty 3