Harlequins flattened by a late Sackey punch

London Irish 18 - Harlequins 12
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The Independent Online

As job applications go, NEC Harlequins' performance yesterday did little to push the cause of their head coach Mark Evans for the position of England coach.

As job applications go, NEC Harlequins' performance yesterday did little to push the cause of their head coach Mark Evans for the position of England coach.

They were abject throughout, and their most evasive performer was Evans himself in the after-match press conference, when he refused to be drawn on whether he was applying for the job vacated by Sir Clive Woodward.

"I think it is the kind of job you are offered or asked to put your name forward to, and that hasn't happened," was the firmest he got on the issue, which was a lot firmer than the grasp that his team's defence had had on Paul Sackey in the 75th minute.

The opening match of the glamorous double-header season-opener at Twickenham needed high drama or a moment of brilliance, and Sackey provided it. Protecting a four-point lead that Quins were threatening to overturn via stealth and penalties, London Irish reverted to type by driving upfield with relentless energy and superb ball retention. It has long been the hallmark of their game, but it is a game plan that needs a playmaker or innovator to capitalise on it, hence the summer signings of Mike Catt and Scott Staniforth. But it was their own speedster Sackey who ensured victory.

Near the left wing, about 20 metres out, he shaped to kick, eased inside and then suddenly burst through a gap to score. Poor defence can be blamed, but rugby has become such a well-structured game that gaps often appear when something unplanned happens. Sackey, seemingly bemused, was alert and skilful enough to take advantage of the lapse.

That the exiles are keen to be more attacking was evident as early as the second minute, when they eschewed a relatively simple kick at goal for an attacking line-out. Their head coach, Gary Gold, said: "We need to be a little bit more adventurous, I felt there were a few more tries out there from broken play."

As Catt settles into his new club, they will rely less on Barry Everitt's kicking and more on stretching defences. Catt did not, however, enjoy a particularly auspicious afternoon. He dropped a pass when an overlap was available, was lucky not to be sin-binned for a high tackle on Ugo Monye and then, in the final quarter, left the pitch with cramp.

"It's difficult for Mike," added Gold. "He has played rugby at the same club for 12 years, and now he has 14 new people around him, and we have a new No 12 to get used to."

London Irish: D Armitage; P Sackey, G Appleford, M Catt (N Mordt, 65), S Staniforth; B Everitt, D Edwards (P Hodgson, 75); N Hatley, A Flavin (R Russell, 66), R Hardwick (P Durant, 79), R Strudwick (capt, N Kennedy, 65), B Casey, P Gustard (P Murphy, 55), K Roche, K Dawson.

Harlequins: G Duffy; U Monye (T Williams, 72), W Greenwood, M Deane, S Keogh; A Dunne (J Staunton, 64), S So'oialo; M Worsley (C Jones, 58), T Fuga (J Hayter, 66), J Dawson, K Rudzki, S Miall, A Tiatia (M Molitika, 58), K Horstmann, A Vos (capt).

Referee: W Barnes (London).

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