Harlequins ended a disastrous recent run of results in 2015 as veteran fly-half Nick Evans produced an assured performance behind the scrum to steer Conor O’Shea’s men to a much-needed Aviva Premiership win.
Evans kicked 16 points for Quins, while England scrum-half Danny Care and Matt Hopper scored tries to seal the win, with James Short and Tom Fowlie replying with touchdowns for London Irish.
Quins had not won on home soil since their victory over Leicester Tigers at the start of 2015, indeed Conor O’Shea’s troops were on a five-match losing streak in all competitions prior to kick-off, their worst run since the 2010 season.
On his 100th appearance for the club, flanker Luke Wallace led his side out – and the impressive reception he received from the Twickenham Stoop faithful seemed to spur Quins on in the early stages.
Harlequins, who welcomed back veteran No.8 Nick Easter from international duty with England, started like an express train and took a third-minute lead thanks to a penalty from former New Zealand international Evans.
London Irish have not been victorious at the Twickenham Stoop since they won 17-0 in the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final in May 2009 and that unwanted run didn’t look like changing as Evans doubled his side’s tally to 6-0 after the Exiles were pinged for not releasing.
From the restart London Irish wing Alex Lewington knocked the ball on and from the resulting scrum, the Exiles drove Quins off their own ball, allowing Shane Geraghty the chance to reduce the deficit with a penalty of his own on 14 minutes.
London Irish may have ended a four-game losing run in all competitions with their 50-12 victory at London Welsh last weekend – their highest points total in the tournament since 2012 – but in the early stages they very much played second fiddle to Quins.
And they conceded another penalty on 18 minutes as the Exiles were penalised for infringing at the breakdown, allowing Evans to successfully land his third kick of the afternoon.
The Exiles have not won successive Aviva Premiership Rugby away games since their opening two trips this season, to Newcastle Falcons and Leicester, and their discipline at the Stoop in the opening half suggested this unwanted statistic was not going to change anytime soon.
Geraghty and Evans exchanged penalties in the 21st and 24th minutes to take the score to 12-6 as the kickers dominated the opening half-hour.
Care handed England boss Stuart Lancaster a timely reminder on 28 minutes as he went over for the game’s first score, created by impressive hands by Mark Lambert and Easter with the try converted by Evans.
Another Quins penalty on 33 minutes was put into the corner by Evans but London Irish cleared their lines, leading to an opportunist try by Short.
A vicious bounce landed in the hands of Short who raced in to score, with Geraghty adding the extras to make the half-time score 19-13.
And the game looked effectively dead and buried after the break as Quins centre Hopper went over for his side’s second score on 47 minutes, created by a break from Jack Clifford and converted by Evans.
A series of changes for Harlequins seemed to halt their momentum in the last half-hour but still the home team looked the likelier to add to their lead in the final quarter.
Against the run of play London Irish centre Fowlie scored for the visitors, with the effort converted by Geraghty to set up a needless tense finale.
Back-to-back penalties took Quins the length of the field on 72 minutes but London Irish’s defence held firm in the dying stages as O’Shea’s looked to burrow for the decisive score in the game.
Despite late London Irish pressure, Harlequins hung on for a crucial win that still gives them an outside chance of making the play-offs.
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