December 30 2012
Despite a full house of 82000 at Twickenham for Harlequins’ yearly Christmas rugbyfest, the rain and general playing conditions militated against an entertaining game of running rugby, Instead they saw Harlequins pragmatically grind out victory over London Irish by 26 – 15 that ensured the champions would end the year, as they began it, on the top of the table.
From the start Harlequins tried to play with pace and attack, taking play deep into the Exiles’ half. The thrust ended in a knock on and an Irish scrum on their twenty-two. A free kick for early engagement gave possession back to Quins and the power of their scrum gained the first of several such penalties and allowed Nick Evans to open the scoring after five minutes.
Despite an equalising penalty from Ian Humphries after twelve minutes it was another powerful scrum which produced a second successful penalty kick from Evans to retake the lead. But Tom Williams was isolated at a breakdown from the restart and was holding on allowing Humphries to equalise again within a minute.
The conditions produced a series of unforced errors on both sides. Both sides, too, defended stoutly. Harlequins mounted more attacks and occasionally threatened to break through. Irish kicked away too much ball.
In the remainder of the half both fly-halves failed to increase the score. Each missed two penalty kicks at goal and the interval arrived with no further score at 6 – 6.
Harlequins started the second half clearly determined to gain advantage over their opponents. They claimed their restart and began to pick and drive their way upfield. Inevitably, an Irish infringement led to a penalty and Evans made no mistake in giving Quins the lead again in only three minutes from the start of the half. Once again the advantage was short lived. A penalty allowed Humphries to find touch just outside the twenty-two and when Kohn went offside at the subsequent maul from the lineout, Humphries was again able to level the scores.
Then a fine run from Monye took play deep into Irish territory. A penalty allowed Evans to find touch for a five metre attacking lineout. With good ball from off the top Danny Care set off on a run across the face of the defence, making nearly half the width of the pitch before passing to Evans to try to break through. When Evans was stopped there was Care totake the ball and burrow under the defence to score the try.
The set piece was proving a problem for the Exiles. Harlequins were winning the battle of the scrum and they also stole the occasional lineout. Another penalty saw Evans increase the lead only to see Humphries pull the scores nearer together with two penalties to 19 – 15 as time began to tick away.
With only a fe minutes remaining, Harlequins stole an Irish lineout and began to work their way upfield towards the Irish try line. When the Exiles’ scrum-half dived on Care at a ruck a penalty five metres from the line followed. So too did a yellow card for the Irish half back. Robshaw called for a scrum. A penalty followed as the Irish scrum virtually disintegrated under the power of the Harlequins’ pack. Not surprisingly Robshaw opted for another scrum and when that also disintegrated, the penalty try that sealed the match followed.
"We are exactly where we want to be," said Conor O'Shea after the match,"We got the win which is all important.”
“The team is living with expectations very well but London Welsh next week, London Irish and then Connacht are three games people would say, wrongly, that we should easily win.
“This time last year we had lost two games of rugby. Now we have lost three games of rugby in 2012 - 15 out of 18. We know the levels we can get this team to and that's what excites me."
Harlequins M Brown (B Botica, 59); T Williams, M Hopper, T Casson (G Lowe, 52), U Monye; N Evans, D Care (K Dickson, 78); J Marler (M Lambert, 78), J Gray (R Buchanan, 57), J Johnston (W Collier, 78), O Kohn (C Matthews, 78), G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 48), N Easter, C Robshaw (capt).
London Irish T Homer; T Ojo, J Joseph, S Tagicakibau (G Armitage, 78), M Yarde; I Humphreys, D Allinson (P Phibbs, 56); M Lahiff (J Yanuyanutawa, 70), D Paice (S Lawson, 78), H Aulika (L Halavatua, 76), B Evans, M Garvey (G Skivington, 70), D Danaher (capt), C Hala'ufia (J Gibson, 56), J Sinclair.
Referee G Garner (London).