I must start this piece by confirming that I am a Saracens fan, honest I am, and yet after yelling on my team against Quins at Wembley last weekend I found myself heading to the Stoop on what promised to be a lovely spring day. I was due to meet one half of my lovely Quins supporting friends, Henry, with poor Sue missing her team again for work. I gave myself 90 minutes to travel the 50 or so miles; and oh deepest joy the trip took me 2 and a half hours! A major satnav fail I do believe! In spite of a horror journey I still arrived for the pre match preparation of eggs benedict followed by a sublime strawberry tart in Patisserie Valerie, simply delightful! There were a lot of Quins shirts in Twickenham it was clear there was going to be a decent crowd, with the returning trio of Mike Brown, Danny Care and England Captain Chris Robshaw playing a home win was on the cards. I had found it strange that the 3 were left at home for the big game against Saracens, but maybe the idea was to target the teams that could be caught in order to secure a top 4 spot. London Irish had amongst their team exiled Australian star James O’Connor and future Quins player Marland Yarde, both exciting and talented players in addition a list of experienced stars. Irish have had a mixed season with only 5 wins to their name yet they remain safe as poor old Worcester Warriors have not a one.
Luke Wallace who never fails to impress me started as he meant to carry on, taking the ball as Irish failed to take it from Nick Evans’ kick off; however the ref also started as he meant to carry on and awarded the first of many penalties; this time against Quins for holding on. London Irish went for a very long throw which went straight to Ofisa Treviranus playing at No 8; they looked likely to score but the key pass was behind Topsy Ojo who dropped the ball, Sam Smith on his way to Worcester next season helped by putting in a great tackle on Ojo. Quins had a phase of play attacking with intent but a kick was charged down and Irish went on the hunt for a try; there was a double charge down but also a double ‘hold back without the ball’ situation, first on a Quins player then an Irish player, neither was seen. Marland Yarde joined the attack, looking very strong on the ball, the attack again came to nothing as Irish knocked on. Quins won a penalty in the scrum but Evans misjudged the wind and failed to find touch, I always want to yell ‘schoolboy error’ when that happens! But, yet again Irish knocked on! Quins won a penalty again in the scrum, lost the ball in but won it back again. Nick Evans redeemed himself as he kicked on, gathering the ball to score a great try under the posts; having made it easy for himself he kicked the conversion.
London Irish had a concerted attacking spell with errors and penalties aplenty. There were also a few immense tackles with Nick Evans felling Fergus Mulchrone then Matt Hopper who has grown in his play immensely this season taking James O’Connor down with huge hits twice. Andrew Small referee for the day gave several penalties for reasons quite unknown to the watching crowd, I think maybe he needs to work on his signals for the benefit of the paying customers; it’s very frustrating not knowing what’s going on. Irish were awarded a penalty as Quins failed to retreat as we had a spell of rugby tennis, it seemed a little harsh, the ref was, I felt very quick to blow his whistle all afternoon. James O’Connor who has to be one of the best kickers in the world stepped up and kicked the 3 points from virtually half way.
Nick Evans placed a clever ball high in the air from the kick off, Topsy Ojo took the ball but Luke Wallace was as usual very quick to make his man. Quins came up with the ball and went on a very promising attack; play was stopped for an injury to Nic Rouse however; it really looked like his head was being stuck on with tape! I can’t imagine how awful that must be to get off after the game! Having had play halted Quins were awarded a scrum virtually under the posts; the ball came out but Quins failed to capitalise from such a good position as the play became static and a scrum was awarded to Irish. James O’Connor cleared the ball but a quick thinking Mike Brown flicked the ball back into play to send his team on the attack, Danny Care taking the ball was however largely isolated and he knocked on. Some poor play by Irish in the next ruck handed Nick Evans another opportunity to score a penalty and he duly stepped up and kicked the ball over the posts. The next few phases of play were error strewn; Quins were twice penalised giving O’Connor the chance to show his kicking skill as he added 6 points for his team. A very scrappy first half saw the teams go in Harlequins 10 London Irish 9.
A big effort was going to be needed by Harlequins to secure the win in the second half. Things started as they’d finished with Nick Easter playing some of his best rugby at times this season made a great break, he passed but to Blair Cowan of London Irish! Both teams put in some scrappy play, personified by a cross field kick by Nick Evans sailing straight into touch. Irish were awarded a kickable penalty as Quins were penalised for not rolling away; again the whistle was blown very quickly! James O’Connor taking his first kick into the wind missed. Marland Yarde showed his attacking prowess running down the field largely unchallenged but the ball ended with Mike Brown and Quins broke into attack again. Yarde was to feature again as Quins attacked, earning himself a yellow card for tackling Jordan Turner Hall without the ball. An easy kick was presented to Nick Evans and he scored a further 3 points for his team taking his personal tally to 13. Reading my notes for the next 10 minute period they tell me that we had a series of penalties and knock ons and Yarde returned to the pitch with no further points added by Quins. Things were getting a bit fractious and Mike Brown exchanged ‘handbags’ with the huge Leo Halavatua, Brown is never one to step away from a challenge! Nic Rouse carried on the theme as Irish were penalised in the lineout, throwing several punches himself. That little set of action livened up a very scrappy game.
Sam Smith carried on his try scoring antics for Quins scoring taking a great floating pass from Danny Care to score in the corner. Sam will be a good acquisition for the Warriors as they aim to bounce straight back to the Premiership. Evans failed ot add the extras with what was a challenging kick. Mike Brown added to the Quins score with a try after Matt Hopper had run through, Evans took attempted a very quick drop goal conversion as Quins seemed to find the urgency, with 4 minutes remaining, that had been missing the whole game as they sought the 4th try and a bonus point. That try was not to be, Quins won the game but not with a bonus point win, next weekend sees them in Paris facing Stade Francais in the Amlin Cup; Good Friday brings Quins a match against the in form Leicester. If Harlequins fail to up their game and cut out the errors they will struggle to beat the Tigers and find their top 4 slot. I somehow think I may need to make that game, giving myself 4 games in 3 days over Easter, 2 rugby league, 2 rugby union! Perfect!