Danny Care led Harlequins back to the top of the Aviva Premiership as he starred in a bonus-point win at the Kassam Stadium, although the defending champions had to withstand heavy second half pressure from London Welsh in order to do so.
Scrum-half Care was at the centre of everything for an impressive 65 minutes – with Welsh fighting back well after his departure.
But the Premiership new-boys were unable to overcome a 15-point half-time deficit after first-half tries from Care, international team-mate Chris Robshaw and returning centre George Lowe put Quins in control.
But despite losing London Welsh’s much improved performance in picking up a losing bonus point against the reigning champions will have pleased director of rugby Lyn Jojnes, who watched his side lose 40-3 in the return fixture earlier in the season.
The game and Care burst into life after 16 minutes as the England man turned on the speed to beat the cover and score under the posts.
Lowe, in his just second game back from ankle surgery, went over for Quins’ second minutes later, taking a Tom Guest offload to go under the posts – Nick Evans kicking the extras for a 14-0 lead.
Russian lock Kirill Kulemin compounded the home side’s problems, catching England Sevens star Ollie Lindsay-Hague high and being sent to the sin bin.
Not for the first time, the home side rallied around their man disadvantage, putting together an impressive 15-minute defensive stand to stem the flow of Quins points.
Despite the rugby being played almost entirely in their own half, Welsh took points on their two visits into Quins territory – Gordon Ross knocking over a penalty on 30 minutes and adding another with the final kick of the half.
However Robshaw was able to cross for his side’s third of the half, a short-range effort after Care saw his tap and go waved off; and it was the two England men who were visibly forcing the pace throughout the first half, as Connor O’Shea’s men went in 21-6 up.
After the break Welsh enjoyed their best stretch with the ball – coming within an outstanding Evans try-saving tackle from crossing themselves.
Fifteen points down, Ross waved off a kickable penalty, but with his side unable to breech Quins fierce goal-line defence, took a shot when given another chance, closing the gap to 21-9.
Minutes later Ross again cut the Quins lead, with the Welsh front-row, and destructive tight-head Franck Montanella, responsible.
Evans responded with a long-range shot of his own, before Welsh’s top try-scorer Nick Scott came up with an emphatic score.
Working off his wing Scott took the ball in midfield, stepping off his right-foot to beat his man and power over – Ross keeping his 100% record in tact with the conversion.
The try seemed to spark Quins, and a sharp wide move saw recalled Sam Smith link well with his full-back to put Evans over on a trademark inside support line – giving Quins their fourth try bonus point of the year.
A missed Evans penalty left the door open for the home side, and flanker Ed Jackson ran through it – intercepting a Ben Botica pass to sprint 40m and bring his side within five points of their visitors, with seven minutes to play, setting up a nail-biting close to the match.
But Quins held strong and head into the Heinkeken Cup with a bonus point 31- 26 win under their belts.