A late flurry helped Harlequins to victory over London Irish but they fell agonisingly short of a bonus point at the Stoop as the race for the Aviva Premiership play-off places intensifies.
Nick Evans crossed in the first half before late efforts from Sam Smith and Mike Brown had the home crowd screaming for that all-important fourth try but despite their best efforts the Exiles held firm to deny Conor O’Shea’s troops.
Evans’ collected his own chip to score the game’s opening try but the boot of James O’Connor kept the Exiles in the clash until Smith went over late on to seal victory.
O’Shea’s side spent the closing stages desperately in search of two more scores to claim the bonus point that would boost their play-off chances and when Brown went over with three minutes left there was a chance.
But Irish held out in the end and victory means Quins stay sixth in the table, two points behind Sale Sharks and six points behind Bath Rugby who sit fourth.
Brown, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw were given a rapturous applause by the home crowd as they returned from international duty to strengthen their side.
Conversely Irish were forced into three late changes with captain George Skivington, Kieran Low and Eamonn Sheridan all out and Tom Fowlie making his first Aviva Premiership start at centre.
With only two minutes gone, Irish worked an overlap in the Quins’ 22, only for winger Topsy Ojo to spill the ball as he was bundled into touch.
A great chase by Fowlie from Shane Geraghty’s kick ahead lead to a charge down and put the visitors into the Quins 22, only for them to knock on several phases later.
Quins began to exert their dominance in the scrum and got themselves back up to the Irish 22 with a penalty following an impressive shove on the half-way line.
The hosts won the lineout and soon opened the scoring after patient approach play gave Evans the space to chip through and collect his kick to score under the posts.
The fly-half easily added the extras to give Quins a seven-point lead after 12 minutes.
Irish finally cut the into Quins’ lead after 25 minutes with the hosts offside in midfield and full-back O’Connor landing a penalty from long distance.
The momentum shifted again to the hosts and Evans made a simple penalty in front of the posts to restore his side’s seven-point lead after 32 minutes.
A thunderous hit by the impressive Fowlie on Quins centre Matt Hopper gave Irish their second penalty of the half and O’Connor converted to cut the home side’s lead once more with five minutes left of the half.
On the stroke of half-time Irish won another penalty ten metres into the Quins half and O’Connor landed another imposing kick to reduce the deficit to one point.
The hosts, desperate to win to keep their play-off chances alive, attacked Irish from the outset of the second half, with Ojo doing well to secure the ball in his own 22 under the close attention of Quins full-back Brown.
The tempo shift initially caught the Irish defence unaware, as Quins No.8 Nick Easter broke clear only to find Irish hands with his attempted offload.
An error-strewn performance by both sides continued as Evans’ cross-kick went straight out on the full and Irish secured the lineout before winning a penalty in front of the upright.
Yet this time O’Connor’s accuracy deserted him as pushed he attempt right of the posts.
Irish winger Marland Yarde seemed poised to score as he burst through Quins’ attempts to bring him down.
Yet the future Quins player was in the sin bin moments later when he was shown a yellow card on 51 minutes for illegally slowing down the hosts and Evans kicked the resulting penalty to extend Quins’ lead.
Quins failed to exploit their man advantage despite a number of promising chances, notably when Evans broke through the Irish line only for centre Hopper to be tackled as he collected the fly-half’s offload.
Despite being restored to 15, Irish remained on the defensive as Quins repeatedly burst through the gain line, with hooker Dave Ward eventually taken down just five metres from the try-line.
The hosts kept Irish penned into their own 22 but failed to convert pressure and penalties into more points until a driving maul gave Quins an overlap on the left and Care’s pass put winger Smith over in the corner with only ten minutes to play.
Evans missed the tough conversion from the left-hand sideline as Quins’ lead remained at nine points.
The hosts were not prepared to settle for only two tries and finally scored a third as they successfully recycled numerous phases to bring Brown into the line and he duly finished in the corner.
Evans missed another difficult conversion from the opposite flank but Quins’ late surge for the bonus point fell just short in the end.