For Harlequins, the points. For Irish, yet another defeat. For a 74,212 crowd, bafflement at the inconsistency of referee Andrew Small, with cards one minute, cruel indifference the next.
Irish have now lost eight on the trot in all competitions, and for most of this game they looked a bag of nerves – and when they did roar back at the death, Small cruelly failed to do his job.
They made a shambolic start, with Chris Malone hoofing the kick-off straight out, then Delon Armitage and Topsy Ojo fumbling in front of their posts for a scrum that saw Nick Evans open the scoring with a fifth-minute penalty. Malone made amends by replying on 12 minutes only for Irish to concede another soft penalty from the restart, Evans cashing in. And when Malone again equalised on 18 minutes, Irish repeated the restart blunder. Cue gestures of utter frustration on the bench as Evans landed his third goal.
Quins tried to create an attacking front and Irish continued to spoil. When Evans banged over his fourth penalty on 26 minutes, referee Small summoned the Irish captain Clarke Dermody to warn of cards to come.
Finally Irish launched an error-free assault and a ruck offence by Chris Robshaw let Malone make it three from three. However, every time Irish did something well they followed it with something stupid, this time a block by the full-back Armitage on Brown, chasing his own chip-ahead.
When Irish offended again, Evans landed his fifth goal only for Malone to keep Irish in touch with his fourth. The referee finally lost patience on the stroke of half-time as Bob Casey killed the ball in front of his posts. For the lock the sin bin, for Evans a sixth goal.
Quins had failed to take their best chances and it got worse, with Irish down to 14 men, Malone's fifth penalty cutting the deficit when the huge crowd had every right to expect Quins to kick on. They did at least edge further ahead on 54 minutes with yet another splendid Evans goal.
Then, out of nowhere, Irish produced the game's most exciting attack, one that led to Danny Care being binned for ball-killing as Malone again closed the gap with a penalty.
Quins turned up the heat in the final quarter, and were finally rewarded with a try. Irish defied a succession of attacks but were cut open when Jordan Turner-Hall's cunning, left-footed grubber kick presented George Lowe with the room to swoop and score, Evans adding the conversion.
But Irish deserved better treatment when they battered the Quins line: they were awarded three penalties yet referee Small showed no interest in going for a card.
Harlequins: Try Lowe; Conversion Evans; Penalties Evans 7. London Irish: Penalties Malone 6.Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), N Easter, W Skinner.
London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo, S Mapusua, D Bowden, S Tagicakibau; C Malone, P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt), J Buckland, F Rautenbach, N Kennedy, B Casey, R Thorpe, G Stowers, S Armitage.
Referee A Small (RFU).Reuse content