9 April 2016
A performance dripping with spirit and desire was not enough for London Irish as they were edged out 38-30 by Harlequins in the quarter-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup at the Twickenham Stoop.
Littered with international stars across the board, Conor O’Shea’s men knew they had been in a game by the end of the night against a relentless Exiles outfit. A lack of composure and game management was perhaps Irish’s undoing, but nonetheless the visiting supporters gave their side a standing ovation as they left the arena after an encouraging display ahead of next week’s crunch Aviva Premiership encounter at Newcastle.
England star Danny Care underlined his class throughout the evening, scoring a hat-trick to earn the man-of-the-match accolade, while back-row Luke Wallace bagged a brace of tries to book Quins a place in the last four.
Wallace opened the scoring on seven minutes, finishing off a sublime attacking move on the back of a neat break from skipper Care. Care’s 20 metre dash was the catalyst, with the ball moved wide from the breakdown to former Exile Marland Yarde, who offloaded to Wallace out wide. Ben Botica’s touchline conversion sailed across the face of goal and the home side had the early advantage at 5-0.
Shane Geraghty closed the gap to 5-3 six minutes later with a penalty in front of goal, and there were some encouraging signs for Irish in the minutes that immediately followed, with the Exiles enjoying a solid spell of possession in the hosts’ 22. Joe Trayfoot, on his old stomping ground coupled with David Paice were a driving force at the heart of the pack.
Despite their foray into Quins’ 22, the home side stood firm and midway through the first period they conjured up their second try of the evening in the shape of Care. Care intercepted Brendan McKibbin’s flighted pass to cross in the corner despite the best efforts of Tom Fowlie, who hunted down the number-nine. The try came just moments after Tim Visser had a try chalked off, with referee Marius Mitrea penalising Mike Brown for crossing in the build-up.
Harlequins extended their lead just short of the half hour mark courtesy of the boot of Botica, but Irish responded in emphatic fashion with a try of their own. Fergus Mulchrone fortuitously latched onto a kick through, with the television match official adjudging the centre to have applied sufficient downward pressure for the score. Geraghty’s superb touchline conversion narrowed the gap to 15-13.
The Exiles went ahead for the first time in the contest by virtue of a Geraghty penalty on 32 minutes to make it 16-15, but if the Exiles’ number-10 had his kicking boots on, so did Botica who replicated the trick from the restart to put his side back in front.
Trailing 18-16 at the break, Irish were back in front four minutes into the second half, McKibbin adding the final touches to a commanding rolling maul. Geraghty’s nudge into the corner forced Care to put his foot into touch and from the resulting lineout, Irish drived their way over the whitewash. Geraghty added the extras from out wide to give the visitors a 23-18 lead.
Skipper for the evening Paice was shown the yellow card on 47 minutes for a tip tackle, but from just inside the Exiles’ half Botica, who was kicking well up until this point, skewed the penalty wide of the upright.
Down to 14-men, the Exiles underlined the Club’s moto of unity, relentless and passion as Sean Maitland showed England ace Brown a clean pair of heels to sprint 40 metres to dive over the line, sending the Irish supporters behind the goal delirious. Spotting a hole in Quins’ defensive line, the Scot pinned his ears back to back himself for the try. Geraghty kicked the extra two to put Irish 30-18 up.
However, the extra man began to tell and the impressive Care bagged his brace for the night, picking the ball up from the base of a maul to burrow his way over the line. Botica missed the conversion and the the hosts went within a converted try of Irish.
Quins produced a carbon-copy of their previous try with an hour on the clock, this time Wallace crashed over from another driving maul. Botica was unable to convert and the Exiles were still in front with the score poised at 30-28.
The Twickenham outfit continued to press the Exiles’ defensive resistance, and the pressure resulted in a Quins penalty with just eight minutes remaining. Botica nailed the penalty to put his side 31-30 in front.
And with four minutes left on the clock, Care rounded off an excellent individual display with his hat-trick as he bossed his forward pack to touch down in the corner. Botica made no mistake to add the extras to bring the score to 38-30.
Quins could have added gloss to the scoreline in the last minute when Tim Visser hunted down Brown’s kick over the top, only for Scott Steele to hack the ball dead with the winger ready to pounce.
With time ticking, Irish continued to play expressive rugby to their credit, but were unable to breach Quins’ rearguard and the hosts saw out the dying embers to earn a hard-fought 38-30 victory.
Tries: Luke Wallace (2), Danny Care (3)
Conversions: Ben Botica (2)
Penalties: Ben Botica (3)
Tries: Fergus Mulchrone, Brendan McKibbin, Sean Maitland
Conversions: Shane Geraghty (3)
Penalties: Shane Geraghty (3)
Score Sequence (London Irish second) 5-0, 5-3, 12-3, 12-6, 15-6, 15-13, 15-16, 18-16, 18-23, 18-30, 23-30, 28-30, 31-30, 38-30
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Danny Care (c), 1 Mark Lambert, 2 Joe Gray, 3 Adam Jones, 4 George Merrick, 5 Sam Twomey, 6 Chris Robshaw, 7 Luke Wallace, 8 Jack Clifford
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Joe Marchant, 23 Ross Chisolm
London Irish: 15 Andrew Fenby, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Fergus Mulchrone (Scott Steele, 63, Fergus Mulchrone, 67), 12 Theo Brophy Clews (Scott Steele, 72), 11 Tom Fowlie, 10 Shane Geraghty, 9 Brendan McKibbin (Darren Allinson, 74), 1 Tom Smallbone (Tom Court, 54), 2 David Paice (c), 3 Leo Halavatau (Richard Palframan, 56), 4 William Lloyd (Ollie Curry, 78), 5 Jebb Sinclair, 6 Tom Guest (David Sisi, 57), 7 Joe Trayfoot (Gerard Ellis, 75), 8 Rob McCusker (Tom Cruse, 50, McCusker, 57)
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom Court, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Ollie Curry, 20 David Sisi, 21 Gerard Ellis, 22 Darren Allinson, 23 Scott Steele
Referee: Marius Mitrea