NEC Harlequins made a disappointing start to the new Zurich Premiership season, losing 16-22 to London Irish. Last seasons tenants at the Stoop controlled much of the game for long periods and ran out worthy winners in a match where opening day nerves got the better of most players.
Quins made the ideal start. A break from Will Greenwood and a drive from Keith Wood caught the Irish offside and Paul Burke kicked the resulting penalty after just two minutes. But from the re-start London Irish began to ask questions of the Quins defence. On six minutes, a dangerous by Garrick Morgan on ex-Quin Chris Sheasby, allowed Jarrod Cunningham to level the scores from the awarded penalty. Referee Nigel Yates had no alternative but to sin-bin Morgan.
Amazingly, Quins didn't concede any further points during Morgan's dismissal. Cunningham knocked on whilst diving for the line and Peter Richards put in a try saving tackle on Irish captain Conor O'Shea. But even with a full compliment of players, Quins could not get out of their half. A second penalty from Cunningham gave the visitors the lead after 18 minutes.
Quins finally put together some passages of play and caught the Irish offside again. Burke's successful penalty attempt after 32 minutes made it 6-6. Cunningham, whose third penalty went in off the post, immediately cancelled this out. A Quins rally just before the break offered Burke the opportunity to strike a 30 metre drop goal and tie the scores at 9-9.
Two minutes into the second half and the Irish were back in front, thanks to another penalty from Cunningham, which again went in off the uprights. Only a crunching tackle from Steve White-Cooper stopped O'Shea from capitalising on a three to one overlap ten minutes later. Irish continued to threaten the Quins line but some stout defence held them up twice over the line. At the third attempt, London Irish made the vital breakthrough. A rolling maul from a five-metre scrum again crossed the line. After close inspection referee Yates concluded that Kieron Dawson had touched down. Cunningham's conversion gave Irish a 10 point lead, after 60 minutes.
A Greenwood break, into the heart of the Irish twenty-two, should have got Quins back in the game. But his pass went to ground and the opportunity was missed. A fifth Cunningham penalty put Irish 22-9 ahead with just five minutes remaining. Quins did manage to stage a late comeback. Quick ball from a lineout close to the Irish line saw Burke off load a beautifully timed short pass to Greenwood, who cantered through to score under the posts. Burke's conversion reduced the deficit to just six points.
In the desperate final minutes of injury time, Quins went searching for the winning score, all to no avail. O'Shea, a constant threat throughout, ended the game with his kick to touch.
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.