Exiles return for sweet revenge

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The Independent Online

London Irish returned to the Stoop to give their erstwhile landlords a bloody nose, albeit metaphorically in a mild-mannered match in which the more spiteful moments amounted to little more than the wanton tossing away of one of Conor O'Shea's boots by an eagle-eyed Harlequin. Even when Quins had their Australian second row Garrick Morgan sin-binned after six minutes for swinging an arm at their recently-departed No 8 Chris Sheasby, the offence was more clumsy than life-threatening.

London Irish returned to the Stoop to give their erstwhile landlords a bloody nose, albeit metaphorically in a mild-mannered match in which the more spiteful moments amounted to little more than the wanton tossing away of one of Conor O'Shea's boots by an eagle-eyed Harlequin. Even when Quins had their Australian second row Garrick Morgan sin-binned after six minutes for swinging an arm at their recently-departed No 8 Chris Sheasby, the offence was more clumsy than life-threatening.

The only crumb of comfort for the humbled hosts, who evicted Irish at the end of last season after a one-year ground-share, was that a converted try by Will Greenwood in the final minute of normal time earned them a bonus point for finishing within seven points of the victors. Thus, Irish, who scored their only try through the hooker Richard Kirke from a close-range scrum during the second half, took away four points to Quins' two. It will be a long season, whatever happens, but neither side encouraged their fans to rush to the bookmakers in support of a strong title challenge.

Considering that 72 players either joined or departed these two clubs during the summer, a lack of cohesion was to be expected. Yet the number of basic errors from Quins, who for some reason began playing catch-up rugby almost from the off, must have prompted much gnashing of teeth from their coaches Richard Hill and Zinzan Brooke. In one first-half sequence that was symptomatic of Quins' state of mind, the full-back Ryan O'Neill took a quick line-out throw for no obvious reason and put his flanker Steve White-Cooper in trouble.

That was quickly compunded by a poor clearing kick by Quins' returning Lions hooker Keith Wood, who then missed his follow-up tackle on Conor O'Shea. That particular episode went unpunished by Jarrod Cunningham, who missed a penalty from directly in front when play swung back to the Quins' 22. But Cunningham, last season's top scorer in the Premiership, had potted three other penalties in the first half to two penalties and a drop goal by Paul Burke for Quins by the interval.

The England coach Andy Robinson saw Greenwood give an effective display in trying circumstances. Quins' first-up tackling was erratic, and they were slow in their support play. Irish, whose supporters organised a shuttle bus service to and from their HQ at Sunbury immediately before and after the match to avoid putting money behind the Stoop bar, were more effective around the fringes of ruck and maul.

After Cunningham's fourth penalty had gone over via a post early in the second half, a series of three scrums, reset to five metres out from the Quins' line under one of the new laws, ended with Kirke burrowing over and Cunningham converting. Another Cunningham penalty put Irish 13 points clear but Pat Sanderson's line-out take and a neat midfield switch by Burke put Greenwood through for that late try.

Harlequins: R O'Neill (M Mapletoft, 38); D O'Leary, W Greenwood, N Greenstock, B Daniel; P Burke, P Richards (M Powell, 68); J Leonard, K Wood (capt), J Dawson (R Mathieson, 77), G Morgan (A Codling, 62), A Jones, S White-Cooper, R Jenkins (A Dawling, 60), P Sanderson.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, T Matson, J Wright, N Ezulike; J Cunningham (R Ashforth, 80), K Campbell (K Ellis, 72); M Worsley (N Hatley, 60), R Kirke, S Halford (R Hardwick, 56), S Williams, R Strudwick, E Halvey, K Dawson, C Sheasby.

Referee: N Yates (Manchester).

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