Tom Casson announced his return to the Harlequins starting lineup with a controversial last-minute try to give the Aviva Premiership champions a 31-28 victory over London Irish to get their domestic season back on track.
The trusty left boot of Ian Humphreys seemed to have sewn up a one-point derby victory for the hosts as he scored 23 points from the tee at the Madejski Stadium.
But it was Quins, and centre Casson, who stole the show at the death, diving clumsily on a loose ball in what appeared to be a knock on before the television match official ruled it had bounced off his knee and awarded the try.
Casson, Tom Williams and Danny Care were the Quins tryscorers while Ben Botica kicked 16 points in a measured but by no means faultless performance at number 10.
The visitors shot into an early 6-0 lead via two quick-fire Botica penalties. Both were for illegal tackles, the first coming from Exiles number 8 Chris Hala’ufia on hooker Rob Buchanan and then David Paice up-ended Williams.
But Botica, still incumbent at fly-half since an ankle injury to Nick Evans two weeks ago, then saw a clearance kick charged down leading to the Exiles’ opening try.
With his team under pressure for the first time in the match the New Zealander failed to judge Irish openside flanker Jamie Gibson’s flat-line speed and the deflected ball was collected by centre Guy Armitage to score an easy first-ever Premiership try.
Humphreys added the extras but Irish were soon under their own posts as Care capitalised on a loose pass in midfield to skip away for a solo try from 40 yards – his third in two games
Botica converted but was at fault again for giving Humphreys the chance to cut the deficit as he dropped an easy pass, which Brown picked up from an offside position.
At 13-10 both sides drew breath but Irish needed less respite before grinding out a penalty through their scrum, which certainly had the nudge on Quins throughout the first half.
Humphreys squared matters up with his third successful kick of the day and then traded penalties with Botica as half-time approached to leave the game finely balanced at 16-16.
The advantage seemed to be with the hosts however as Brown had been sent to the sin bin for slapping down a pass by Jonathan Joseph just before the break while Chris Robshaw was forced off after taking a boot to the head, Maurie Fa’asavalu replacing him.
Yet the champions showed their steel on 47 minutes as they righted their first-half inferiority by forcing an Exiles scrum down and referee Tim Wigglesworth’s hand came up for a penalty, put over by Botica for his fourth of the game.
Humphreys replied from the tee three minutes later but Quins’ then showed that their inexperienced centre pairing were packing a few tricks of their own and it lead to a try for Williams.
From a scrum, Care fed Tom Casson, in his first match of the season, who linked up with Hopper and the former Cornish Pirate opened up his treasure chest with a lovely pass out of the back of the hand to Botica.
The 22-year-old drew his man and found Williams to dive in at the corner and Botica converted.
Humphreys limited the damage straight away with a penalty and followed it up with a long-range effort on 65 minutes to put his team within a point of the champions at 25-26.
As Quins looked for the killer score, they became ensnared in Irish’s defence and when Nick Easter gave away a penalty at the lineout, Humphreys was reliable as ever and kicked Irish into the lead.
But Quins kept on plugging and with a minute left on the clock Monye made a dart for the corner, speculatively threw the ball inside for Casson to dive onto and cross the line for the match-winner.