Quins hang on for vital win
Harlequins returned to winning ways with a tense 26-20 victory against London Irish at the Stoop.
Quins had lost their last five matches in all competitions heading into the clash with the Exiles. Consecutive league defeats to Wasps, Exeter and Northampton had seen Conor O'Shea's side slide down to ninth in the Aviva Premiership table.
But tries from Danny Care and Matt Hopper secured the much-needed victory with Nick Evans contributing 16 points from the boot in a faultless kicking display.
London Irish replied with scores from James Short and Tom Fowlie while fly half Shane Geraghty kicked 10 points.
Quins began the game with plenty of intent and laid siege to the Exiles line early on with Harry Sloan, Hopper and Evans going close with strong carries. The home side's pressure eventually forced the Exiles offside allowing Evans to bisect the posts for the first points of the afternoon.
A brace of errors from Geraghty allowed Quins to further extend their lead when his long-range clearance went dead handing an attacking scrum to Quins 80 metres back up the field. From the ensuing scrum, Geraghty was penalised for a dangerous tackle on England winger Marland Yarde. Evans made no mistake from the tee to double Quins' advantage.
Powerful scrummaging from the Exiles pack allowed Geraghty to cut the deficit to 6-3 in the 13th minute.
Exiles flanker Blair Cowan, who had returned from Six Nations duty with Scotland during the week, was penalised for hands in the ruck allowing Evans to convert his third penalty of the afternoon to round off an entertaining, if error-strewn, opening quarter.
London Irish were struggling to contain Quins out wide but the visitors definitely had an edge at scrum time with another powerful shove allowing Geraghty to make it 9-6.
The battle of the two kickers continued with Evans extending Quins' lead after Exiles lock Jebb Sinclair was penalised for failing to roll away at the ruck.
In a contest dominated by the whistle, Quins sparked the game to life in the 29th minute with a try of the highest quality. Quick hands from Dave Ward, Mark Lambert and Nick Easter released Hopper down the left wing who fed Care to touch down under the posts. Evans fired over the conversion as Quins established a commanding 19-6 lead.
London Irish desperately needed a break to get back in the game and Short duly obliged. Quins full back Ross Chisholm took far too long to deal with a loose kick with Short pouncing on the bouncing ball to race over from 40 metres. Geraghty added the extras to bring the Exiles right back into the game just before break.
Quins came firing out of the blocks in the second half with Hopper crashing over following a powerful break from blindside Jack Clifford in midfield. Evans fired over the touchline conversion as Quins raced out to a 26-13 lead.
Quins were dominating the second-half but it was the Exiles who struck next as centre Fowlie finished off a sparkling counter-attack to sprint clear from 50 metres out. Geraghty added the extras to cut Quins' lead to six points with 13 minutes remaining.
A frantic finish to the contest ensued, but O'Shea's men did enough to see out the game.