London Irish send out a statement on return to Premiership after shooting down Harlequins in style at Twickenham

London Irish 39 Harlequins 29: Bonus-point victory gives Exiles early take-off on their return to the Premiership

Tommy Bell scored 24 points as London Irish made a winning return to the Premiership
Tommy Bell scored 24 points as London Irish made a winning return to the Premiership

London Irish announced their return to the Premiership in style to suggest an immediate return to the Championship is not on the cards this season as full-back Tommy Bell’s haul of 24 points secured an impressive 39-29 victory over Harlequins at Twickenham.

The Exiles, back after their one-season stay in the second tier, shot out of the blocks with tries from Topsy Ojo and Bell, before Quins clawed their way back into the affair through Joe Marchant.

The loss of 18-year-old protégé Marcus Smith, heralded as a future England fly-half, destabilised Quins somewhat, and a Ofisa Treviranus try looked to put Irish out of reach. But late scores from England duo Marland Yarde and Danny Care set-up a three-point game with as many minutes on the clock, only for replacement scrum-half Brendan McKibbin to seal the win and, with it, the try-scoring bonus point.

Many have tipped Irish to stay up this season, not least due to the fact that they have a generous smattering of international-calibre players running through the side. Yet while the experience and nous was evidently there, a sheer desire to challenge Quins was also on display, and the reward was two first-half tries for their risk-taking.

The Exiles started the brighter, with two Tommy Bell penalties keeping them ahead after Smith struck one back for Quins, but after a nervy first quarter the game came alive in beautiful fashion.

Topsy Ojo scored his 47th Premiership try (Getty)

The first was a sublime try that wouldn’t have looked amiss in the first game of the day. Having watched Saracens run in nine tries against Northampton, Irish upped the stakes as they brought Twickenham to its feet. Deep in their own 22, fly-half James Marshall turned down the chance to clear his lines and instead chipped over the defence for Topsy Ojo to run on to.

Ojo may be 32 years old these day, but he’s still got those handy afterburners glowing brightly and after catching the ball on the fly he hit the gas. That committed full-back Mike Brown, and the pass inside released centre Fergus Mulchrone to pass halfway. Ojo had continued his run, and the supporting line inside saw him gather the ball and go over to score, with referee Tom Foley awarding the try after a television match official check for a knock-on and offside that weren’t there.

Six minutes later, Irish were in double heaven. The ultra-physical Blair Cowan, one of the aforementioned internationals in the side, had already done his best to smash Marland Yarde into next week by the time he was fed possession in the line on the left. Taking a step inside, he committed two defenders and crucially freed his arms to pop inside to Bell, and despite having support the full-back pinned his ears and cruised pass opposite man Brown as if he wasn’t there.

Irish were 18-3 to the good and threatening to take the game away from Quins, with the situation crucial for the Richmond-based side if they wanted to make a game of it. They did so through a combination of good timing and cunning.

Marcus Smith saw his Premiership debut ended in the 50th minute (Getty)

Danny Care fed Smith from a scrum and the teenager passed to Jamie Roberts before looping round the Wales centre. Smith had already shown he has something special in the locker, and the defence were just lulled into drifting before Roberts instead found Joe Marchant on a lovely line that took him straight to the posts, cutting the lead to 18-10, with Smith belying his tender years to take a drop-goal conversion and prevent any TMO review on Roberts’ suspicious pass.

Bell added his third penalty before the break, but the lead was not one that looked safe – yet. However, when Quins tried to up the intensity, Irish responded and then some. With Ojo off four minutes into the second half for a head injury assessment [HIA], Aseli Tikoirotuma was introduced and his first act was to smash Smith out of the game, albeit with a brutal legal tackle. Smith was reluctant to go, but he required an head injury assessment at the very least, and matters were not helped when his replacement Demetri Catrakilis, the new signing from Montpellier, was sent to the sin-bin 90 seconds after coming on for killing the ball. Bell kicked the penalty, but better was still to come.

Another break from their own half saw the electric Alex Lewington drift right and feed replacement Greig Tonks. The Scot had Brendan McKibbin inside him, and the replacement scrum-half smartly pivoted on the spot to pop the ball to Ofisa Treviranus to sprint over for a 29-10 lead, taking Irish past any of their points totals in the doomed 2015/16 season.

Danny Care's late try made it a three-point game (Getty)

But Harlequins weren’t done yet, and once Catrakilis returned to restore parity, they quickly hit back with a catch-and-drive allowing Care to break down the blindside and release Yarde to go over unopposed in the right corner. Catrakilis’ impressive conversion made it a 12-point game with 15 minutes left on the clock, and Quins knew they had a friend in the catch-and-drive.

Two penalties against Irish gave the ‘away’ side, despite Quins playing across the road from Twickenham, the chance to set-up another driving maul, and this time Care went it alone to cut the lead further. Another penalty from Bell looked to have secured it for Irish as Brown was sent to the sin-bin for deliberately blocking the full-back as he chased his own chip, but there was plenty of drama still left in this one.

A break on the left from Yarde allowed the England wing to pass inside for Charlie Walker to go over under the posts, with Catrakilis’ conversion making it a three-point game, but Twickenham erupted as those in green jumped for joy when a loose Mat Luamanu offload allowed McKibbin to collect and take aim for the line to spark wild celebrations. London Irish are back, and they’re not going down without a fight.

Teams

London Irish: Bell; Lewington, Hearn, Mulchrone (Tonks, 29), Ojo (Tikoirotuma, 44-53); Marshall, Steele (McKibbin, 50); Hobbs-Awoyemi (Reid, 53), Paice (Porecki, 53), Du Plessis (Franks, 53); Van der Merwe (McNally, 65), De Chaves; Coman, Cowan, Treviranus (Gilsenan, 70).

Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Marchant, Roberts, Walker; Smith (Catrakilis, 50), Care; Marler (Lambert, 50), Buchanan, Collier (Sinckler, 50); Glynn, Horwill; Robshaw, Ward, Clifford (Luamanu).

Replacements not used: Joe Gray, George Merrick, Charlie Mulchrone, Winston Stanley.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in