Quins battle for draw in latest war of attrition

Harlequins 9 London Irish 9
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The Independent Online

For anyone thinking this prolonged stint of Guinness Premiership mediocrity will soon pass, Toby Booth, the head coach of London Irish, has some bad news. "Actually, it looks like it's getting worse than getting better," he said after seeing his side dragged into another scrap against Harlequins at the Stoop.

"We're more ambitious than most, but as seasons go on, people become more used to what can be done and what can't be done." Booth was, of course, referring to the breakdown, an area which referees are struggling to police effectively.

Law changes are making teams, fearful of conceding turnover ball, think again about launching daring raids out wide and that concern has even crept into Irish's play. They have not scored a try in more than three hours of Premiership rugby – prior to that they had touched down 15 times in four-and-a-half games.

Irish were robbed of Sailosi Tagicakibau in the 17th minute against Quins, the Fijian winger turning an ankle at the end of one of the few free-flowing moves of the match. Another break, made by Quins full-back Mike Brown and ended by scurrying defending from Steffon Armitage, was about the size of it in terms of try-scoring opportunities.

John Kingston, the Quins director of rugby, said. "I'm not sure what was wrong with the product last season. I don't believe there's anyone who can say Harlequins are a negative side. We aren't, but we've scored six tries in eight games. There's really very few points being scored around the Premiership right now.

"I thought the game was absorbing but the customer wants to see more scores. It was attritional, enthralling but it's not maybe quite exciting enough because people aren't running with the ball."

It was at one of those fiercely contested breakdowns where Armitage erred, with 90 seconds left when his side were 9-6 up. Armitage, battling with Lewis Moody for England's No7 jersey for Saturday's Test against Australia, gambled but was penalised for hands in the ruck. Rory Clegg booted the equalising kick as time elapsed.

The fly-half had earlier slotted over two others, with Irish's points coming from the boot of Ryan Lamb and Peter Hewat. He was making his Premiership debut for Quins who he joined from Newcastle in the summer. Clegg showed great character with that kick, especially given he had failed to shine in the previous 79 minutes. "I've done that 100 times in training and I was confident I could do that during the match. Nerves didn't get to me at all," he said.

Harlequins: Penalties Clegg (3). London Irish: Penalties Lamb (2), Hewat.

Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, G Tiesi, N Mordt, J Drauniniu (G Lowe, 60); R Clegg, S So'oialo (K Dickson, 62); C Jones, T Fuga (C Brooker, 60), J Andress (M Lambert, 65), J Percival, G Robson, C Robshaw (capt), T Guest, N McMillan.

London Irish: P Hewat; J Rudd, E Seveali'i, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau (P Richards, 17); R Lamb (C Malone, 60), A Lalanne (J Lennard, 60); C Dermody (D Murphy, 79), D Coetzee (D Paice, 60), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 60), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt), G Stowers (R Thorpe, 63), C Hala'uifa (K Roche, 79), S Armitage.

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).

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