Harlequins’ first step on the road to redemption was backwards after lock George Robson was sent off for head-butting just 46 seconds into the new season.
But in the remaining 79 minutes there was much for the Harlequins faithful to be proud of as they provided Wasps with stern resistance at Twickenham. There was plenty of thunder from the Quins, who defied the loss of Robson to open a 12-5 lead with tries from Ugo Monye and new signing Gonzalo Camacho.
Steve Kefu had just fired a kick directly into touch when Robson became embroiled in an off-the-ball scuffle and aimed a head-butt at the Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson. Referee Dean Richards took advice from his assistant and brandished the red card.
If ever Quins needed to prove their summer pronouncements of unity and team spirit were not more than just a party line, this was it. And Will Skinner’s men responded nobly. For half an hour, Nick Evans directed the show from fly-half and Wasps had little answer to Quins’ makeshift scrum. And Harlequins took a deserved lead after 10 minutes when David Strettle gathered Evans’ cross kick, jinked in from the right wing and then sent Monye over for the try with a one-handed pass.
Wasps responded with a debut try from Varndell, who started the move with a 50-metre break and then finished it after a darting run and delayed pass from Danny Cipriani. But the short-handed Quins refused to be cowed and, immediately from Evans’ restart, Care picked out Camacho with a perfectly-weighted cross-kick.
Evans converted the try and then landed a penalty, earned by Harlequins’ makeshift scrum with winger Camacho packing down on the flank. But Mark van Gisbergen, kicking instead of Cipriani, drew Wasps back into it with two penalties of his own and just before the interval Varndell struck again.
Wasps stole lineout ball on the Quins 22 and whisked it wide through Kefu and Ben Jacobs to Varndell, who crashed over the line and managed to force the ball down.
Harlequins continued to show the right kind of fighting spirit after the interval, defending valiantly as first Cipriani and then Jacobs darted for the line before eventually conceding a penalty under the posts, which Van Gisbergen slotted.
Quins made two changes to their front row and kept the Wasps scrum under pressure but Evans missed two penalty shots that would have earned a narrow lead.
Harlequins had their heroes. Nick Easter and the front row battled valiantly. But as they tired, Wasps cranked up the pressure in the closing minutes and won a penalty try from a driving lineout maul which denied Harlequins even a losing bonus point.