Few sides turn down a conversion, so it illustrates the value Harlequins place upon bonus points at this vital stage of the season that they did so here. Their third try came with four minutes remaining, so they spurned the touchline attempt in the hope of scoring a fourth try and picking up the extra point which, in the final reckoning, could be the difference between winning a play-off place or not.
Harlequins are involved in a pitched battle with Sale Sharks and Bath for fourth place when the regular Aviva Premiership season ends, and have still to play both those rivals in their remaining four fixtures. If nerves are shredding, then it showed yesterday in a mess of a game when neither side could sustain any fluidity whatsoever.
“The standards we set ourselves are better than that,” Conor O’Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby, said. “The breakdown was frustrating beyond comprehension throughout the game. If you get the scores, the confidence floods through, the team picks up hence the last ten minutes when the shackles come off.”
The game was littered with more stoppages, scrums and penalties than you might expect in the depths of winter. Moreover, if London Irish, who have nothing to play for but pride, had taken their chances, Harlequin nails might have been down to the quick by the end.
James O’Connor, having floated three penalties down the wind in the first half, missed into the breeze with a fourth which would have given his side the lead, and Marland Yarde – not for the first time in the match – tossed a pass anywhere when greater accuracy might have brought a try. Given that Yarde received a second-half yellow card and Topsy Ojo knocked on with the line at his mercy in the opening minutes, it was not a great day for the visiting wings. And in the end the class of Harlequins emerged.
Nick Evans, collecting his own chip ahead, scored and converted the first try and kicked two penalties either side of half-time, the second after Yarde’s dismissal for deliberately knocking a floated pass into touch. Time was running out when Nick Easter carried a maul infield and Danny Care’s long pass allowed Sam Smith to squeeze over; Mike Brown muscled through for a third try but, in truth, Harlequins did not deserve a fourth.
Harlequins: M Brown; O Lindsay-Hague, M Hopper, J Turner-Hall, S Smith; N Evans; D Care; J Marler, D Ward, K Sinckler (P Doran-Jones, 67), N Kennedy (C Matthews, 65), G Robson, L Wallace (T Guest, 57), C Robshaw (captain), N Easter.
London Irish: J O’Connor; T Ojo, F Mulchrone, T Fowlie (A Lewington, 67), M Yarde (sin bin 51-62); S Geraghty (captain), T O’Leary (D Allinson, 49); M Parr (J Yapp, 56), J Stevens (M Mayhew, 56), J Hagan (L Halavatau, 49), I Gough (G Ellis, 62), N Rouse, J Sinclair (J Harris, 69), B Cowan, O Treviranus.
Referee: A Small (London).