Charlie Walker’s double helped Harlequins climb to third in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table but they had to hold off a stirring Worcester Warriors comeback at Sixways on Sunday.
Walker and Luke Wallace went over for first-half scores for the visitors – who have not lost to Worcester since February 2005 – and when the winger bagged his second soon after the break Quins looked home and hosed leading 24-3.
But three Warriors tries in the second half from Marco Mama, a penalty try and Phil Dowson closed the gap to four points and Conor O’Shea’s side had to cling on in the end.
The visitors’ cause was not helped by yellow cards to both George Lowe and Jamie Roberts but in the end they just about merited their victory and leapfrog Leicester Tigers in the table.
For Dean Ryan’s troops defeat keeps them down in tenth in the table but they claim a losing bonus point as consolation and become the first team in Quins’ last eight matches to deny the Londoners a four-try bonus point.
The conditions underfoot at Sixways were boggy but the away side made light of it early on – grabbing the game’s first try inside three minutes.
The two Quins wingers, Walker and Ross Chisholm, combined to deadly effect down the left to work an overlap and Walker showed great hands to re-gather the final pass and step back inside to dive over under the posts.
Nick Evans added the extras and the visitors were into an early 7-0 lead while up the other end Tom Heathcote missed out on a chance to immediately reduce arrears – his penalty leaking wide after Chris Pennell was taken out in the air.
With conditions as they were, the game was becoming a kicking contest but a fine break from Tevita Cavubati on the quarter-hour mark got the Warriors on the front foot and when Quins centre Lowe cynically infringed at the breakdown referee Wayne Barnes did not hesitate to brandish a yellow card – Quins’ first in the league this season.
To compound matters Heathcote slotted the subsequent penalty to trim Quins’ lead to 7-3 but the visitors calmly saw out those ten minutes with 14 men.
And when they were restored to their full complement they grabbed their second try, Evans kicking a penalty to the corner and Wallace diving over at the back of a driving maul.
The fly-half added the extras and added a penalty with half-time approaching to open up a 17-3 lead for the away side.
And that was how it stayed until the interval although Quins twice had to repel close-range lineout drives from the home side before the half-time whistle sounded.
Straight after the break Quins appeared to put the game to bed, Wallace won a vital turnover and Danny Care fed through a delightful little grubber that Walker dived on for his second try of the game and sixth of the season.
Evans was again on target with the conversion and at 24-3 the vistors looked in a strong position.
But, roared on by the Sixways faithful, the Warriors rolled up their sleeves and mustered an immediate response – Mama the try scorer at the back of a driving lineout maul.
Heathcote had gone off injured in the first half after a collision with Charlie Matthews and in his absence Ryan Mills took on the kicking duties but missed the conversion to leave it 24-8 to Quins.
However, the Warriors were on the charge and with the hour mark approaching they were again threatening the try line and Roberts was sent to the sin bin for the visitors after he was caught on the wrong side.
And when the Warriors scrum began to get a shove on referee Barnes gave a penalty try, Mills added the extras and Sixways was rocking with the lead shaved down to nine points at 24-15 and with Quins down to 14 men.
But despite the numerical disadvantage it was Quins on the attack as the game entered the final 15 minutes as they chased a fourth try and a bonus point.
Warriors held firm however, and in the closing stages came again and Mills’ clever kick to the left corner was fumbled by Walker allowing Dowson to collect and dive over.
Mills’ conversion from wide on the left went agonisingly wide however and Quins still led 24-20 with Roberts now back on the pitch and the clock ticking down.
And while the Warriors pushed hard late on there was no getting through some stout Quins defence as they claimed a hard-fought victory.
Boxing Day Sale! Click here to grab a bargain with 20% off tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on 28 May at Twickenham.