NEC Harlequins ended their three-match losing streak in the Guinness Premiership by claiming the maximum five points in a 34-17 victory over their great rivals London Irish at the Twickenham Stoop. Tries from David Strettle and Stuart Abbott, Quins third and fourth in the match respectively, in the opening seven minutes after half-time put the result beyond doubt, while Andrew Mehrtens finished with a personal tally of 14 points in the match.
Indeed, it was Mehrtens who opened the scoring with a penalty after just two minutes, only for his opposite number Barry Everitt to respond in similar fashion three minutes later. After Everitt missed a second penalty attempt, the Quins fly half had no such problems when given the opportunity of three points on 12 minutes to make the score 6-3.
The hosts then came close to opening the try scoring following a tremendous counter attack from their own twenty-two after 17 minutes. Man-of-the-match Chris Hala'Ufia started the move from the base of a scrum, before Mike Brown made ground into the Exiles half. Abbott was in support but was hauled down short of the line, only for Andy Gomarsall to knock the ball forward.
However, further pressure from Quins followed and it led to Jim Evans claiming the first try three minutes into the second quarter. Ollie Kohn stole possession from an Irish lineout on the visitors twenty-two that resulted in Paul Volley and then Gomarsall being held-up short of the line, before Evans reached over to claim the five points under the posts. Mehrtens made no mistake with the simple conversion to open up a ten-point lead (13-3).
Straight from the restart and the home side extended their advantage by scoring a cracking break away try. Brown again made the initial break into the Exiles half and after Hala'Ufia and Volley both made inroads into the visitors defence, the overlap was created out on the left that allowed Brown a simple run-in from ten metres out. Two further points from Mehrtens made the score 20-3, 15 minutes before half-time.
The Exiles put themselves back in contention three minutes before the interval as a fine break from winger Sailosi Tagicakibau down the left flank presented full back Riki Flutey with an unopposed run-in for the visitors first try of the match. Everitt converted meaning the deficit was back to ten points at the halfway stage (20-10).
However, any thoughts Irish had of getting back in the game evaporated in the opening ten minutes after the restart. Just two minutes into the half and Hala'Ufia and Andre Vos combined to take play from deep in the Quins half, all the way into the Exiles twenty-two. This time the overlap was created out on the right and good passing through the back line resulted in Strettle just having the necessary space to dive over in the corner. An excellent touchline conversion from Mehrtens restored the hosts 17-point advantage (27-10).
It got better for Quins just five minutes later with the hosts claiming their bonus point try. After the forwards drove play forward, a beautifully timed pass from Mehrtens to Abbott allowed the centre to glide through the Exiles defence and touchdown under the posts. Mehrtens added the two extra points to put Quins into a commanding 24-point lead (34-10).
In the time that remained, the visitors dominated possession and territory for the rest of the game. However, they were unable to breach a resolute Quins defence even when Evans was sin-binned at the start of the final quarter for bringing down his opposite number at a lineout. Eventually the Exiles added to their tally two minutes from the end when flanker Kieran Roche reached over to score nothing but a consolation try, which centre Nils Mordt converted.
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.