In terms of scoring this was like a throwback to the old amateur days. London Irish had thrown everything, including a kitchen sink of a prop by the name of Faan Rautenbach, at Quins and yet after 65 minutes they found themselves 3-0 down.
The picture changed dramatically when Mike Brown, the Quins full-back, was shown a yellow card for killing the ball. He was not admonished by Chris White, who did not reappear for the second half after damaging a muscle. Sean Davey took over the whistle and he made his presence felt.
Brown's trip to the sin-bin was just the break the Irish needed. From the resultant penalty Eoghan Hickey, who had come on for Peter Hewat, made it 3-3 and his side went on to secure an important victory against one of the form teams of the Guinness Premiership.
The Irish, who have one of the biggest matches in their history at Twickenham next Saturday, when they meet the French aristocrats Toulouse in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, could not afford to put their feet up yesterday, not if they wanted to keep alive their hopes of qualifying through the league for the elite European competition next season.
"That was the emotional drive for us," Toby Booth, the Irish forwards coach, said. The loss of the Australian Hewat, who was a match-winner in the Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Perpignan, to a shoulder injury is a worry but on the other hand Mike Catt is recovering from a calf strain and will be considered for selection against Toulouse.
Catt is also the backs coach, a role he would like to fill, at some stage, for England. He has learnt most of what he knows from a coach called Brian Ashton. The Irish backs here went off like a starburst but whatever they tried, and they tried almost everything, they couldn't quite produce a clear overlap.
This is mostly explained by the excellence of the Quins defence, which at times was inspired. Their speed into the tackle was such that they began to look like they had borrowed from Wasps' notorious blitz defence.
The multicoloured line cracked only after Brown had left the field. Seilala Mapusua, who did not have his most fruitful afternoon in difficult conditions, managed to make some ground deep in enemy territory and then offloaded to the right wing, Topsy Ojo. It wasn't the greatest of passes and it also looked decidedly forward.
Dean Richards, the Quins' director of rugby, had no doubt that Davey should have blown. But he didn't and Ojo escaped the attention of Steve So'oialo, who was playing out of position as a wing replacement, to go over for the game's only try.
Bob Casey, the Irish captain, received a yellow card for a late tackle on Danny Care and Adrian Jarvis landed the penalty which earned Quins a bonus point. They remain in third place in the Premiership and on course for a place in the play-offs.
With Paul Hodgson at scrum-half, the Irish played Peter Richards in the centre, although the England No 9 frequently popped up in other positions before reverting to scrum-half in the final quarter.
Quins made their intentions clear from the opening seconds, when Chris Robshaw clattered into Shane Geraghty.
The Irish launched wave after wave of attacks but simply could not put any points on the board. Presented with a penalty in the 15th minute, Hewat's kick rebounded from an upright. He should have been presented with a few more attempts, particularly after Hodgson had his service illegally disrupted at a couple of scrums.
As it was, Jarvis gave Quins the lead against the run of play with a penalty in the 34th minute. Hewat missed with another attempt after 43 minutes, before being replaced. He crashed on his shoulder after being heavily tackled by Robshaw.
It wasn't until the 70th minute that the Irish took a lead they had been threatening from the off. It came with a second penalty from Hickey, after the prop Mike Ross was penalised for offside.
Yes Quins were unhappy about Ojo's try, but, overall, they had no complaints about the result.
London Irish: P Hewat (E Hickey, 47); T Ojo, P Richards, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; S Geraghty, P Hodgson (N Mordt, 64); D Murphy (T Lea'aetoa, 64), D Paice (D Coetzee, 56), F Rautenbach, B Casey (capt), J Hudson, D Danaher (JM Leguizamon, 64), R Thorpe, S Armitage.
Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, U Monye, T Masson (DW Barry, 73), T Williams; A Jarvis, D Care; C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 63), M Ross, O Kohn (J Evans, 63), G Robson, C Robshaw, N Easter (T Guest, 68), W Skinner (capt).
Referee: Chris White (Gloucestershire; S Davey, Sussex, 40).Reuse content