Fixture: London Irish vs Harlequins
Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 16
Date: 29th January 2023
Venue: Gtech Community Stadium
Officials: Referee: Matthew Carley, Assistant Referee 1: Jordan Way (Rugby Australia), Assistant Referee 2: Joe James, No4: George Selwood, TMO: Ben Whitehouse (WRU), Timekeeper: Bob Ockenden, Citing Officer: Jay Curts.
Round 16 of the Gallagher Premiership sees London Irish host Harlequins at the Gtech Community Stadium for another chapter of the west London derby.
Off the back of a European exit, Irish return to league competition having lost just once in their last four Gallagher Premiership fixtures and being unbeaten in their last four outings in domestic competitions.
Two constant elements of Irish’s game in the Premiership this term have been tackling and lineout success, boasting the best completion rate in the division of the former (90%) and having scored more tries starting with lineouts than any other team – 34 of their 45 tries.
Comparatively, Harlequins have the best rate of ball retention at the maul in the Premiership (98%), a league-high 11 tries originating from scrums and third in turnovers won per game, averaging 7.7 per 80 minutes.
Danny Care has been a consistent avenue for this weekend’s opponents, forcing more pressure errors with his kicks than any other player (seven), with four of these have been bomb kicks.
He also sits second in passes made in the Premiership (607), fourth in try assists (six) and third in retained kicks (11), with teammate Irne Herbst joint-seventh in the Premiership in tackles made (118) with a 91.5% completion rate, Exile Tom Pearson second overall with 138.
Despite qualifying for the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 from Pool A, in league outings Quins have lost their last three, but not lost four on the bounce since 2019.
Irish have had the upper hand in the last five meetings in all competitions with three wins, however their league win in November 2021 was their only one in the last six Premiership matchups.
The Boss- Tabai Matson:
Matson joined the coaching ticket at Harlequins following on from their second-ever title win back in the summer of 2021, bringing with him a wealth of coaching experience.
His time in the dugout began in Asia with Japanese Top League Club Yamaha Jùbilo, going on to win the 2012 ITM Cup with Canterbury before spells with Super Rugby franchises Crusaders and Chiefs.
His time in management eventually led to a return to the Flying Fijians as the Attack Coach, also manning the Mãori All Blacks as the first non-Mãori to do so.
As a player, Matson played for Crusaders and indeed London Irish for a short spell, also lining-up for the All Blacks and Fiji as an international squad member.
One to Watch - Will Evans:
Averaging four metres per carry and 87% tackling success this season, loose forward Will Evans will remain a threat at the breakdown this weekend.
Quins average the third-most in turnovers won per game (7.7 per 80 minutes), with Evans being a contributory factor in such an impressive statistic.
Evans trails only Saracens’ Ben Earl (21) in turnovers won in the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership, executing 20, with Benhard Janse van Rensburg (11) and Tom Pearson (12) trailing their London rival closely.
Former Leicester Tiger and Under-20 World Dream Team candidate is in his fourth campaign with Harlequins, aiding in the Stoop side’s second title lift in his second season with the most turnovers of any Premiership player that year (29).
The 25-year-old, who celebrates his birthday this weekend, has made 14 appearances for Quins this year and touched down against Cell C Sharks in Round 1 of the pool stages of the Heineken Champions Cup.
In the reverse fixture against the South Africans last week, Evans made a decisive five turnovers and also six tackles as Quins completed a 39-29 win over the Durban-based outfit to progress.
Classic Encounter- Harlequins 0-17 London Irish – 9th May 2009 – Guinness Premiership:
London Irish booked themselves a place in their first-ever Premiership final with a whitewash of local rivals Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop.
Remarkably, the game entered the second period with no points notched by either side, a rare feat realised after six missed penalties between the battling adversaries as Irish also dominated the set-piece.
It was replacement Delon Armitage who broke the deadlock with a place kick of his own, which was soon accompanied by an effort from James Hudson, scoring under the posts with a rapid line after Quins conceded possession not long before.
Armitage was close to dotting down for a try of his own after converting Hudson’s, but was denied by fellow England international Ugo Monye as Irish tightened up even further in defence.
Veteran Mike Catt sealed Irish’s fate in their first final berth with an intercept converted try to take the Exiles across the road to HQ a week later.
Tries: James Hudson, Mike Catt
Conversions: Delon Armitage (2)
Penalties: Delon Armitage
Harlequins Head Coach Tabai Matson explained his emotions after his side’s recent victory on the continent over Cell C Sharks, their first win since 18th December.
“It feels really good for a number of reasons,” Matson stated.
“It’s been five weeks since we’ve won, so to be back in the winning circle, playing in a manner we’re really proud of and delivering a good performance with five tries.
“It’s a great feeling.”