A last gasp Dave Ward try handed Harlequins the Cunningham Duncombe Series against an enthused London Irish outfit, who can take real heart from Saturday’s contest at Hazelwood.

In the ascendancy for much of the afternoon, Irish crossed the whitewash four times in the shape of Alex Lewington (2), David Paice and Petrus Du Plessis.

However, a Quins side welcoming back England internationals Danny Care, Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown and Marland Yarde to the fray, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

The Exiles blooded seven of their summer signings, each player giving a solid account of themselves as attentions now turn to next Friday’s warm-up clash against Championship side Ealing Trailfinders.

Irish opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Paice burrowed his way over from a driving lineout just moments after being put under severe pressure.

Tommy Bell added the extras and Nick Kennedy’s men were good value for their 7-0 lead in front of more than 2,000 spectators at the Exiles’ Hazelwood training complex.

Quins hit back three minutes later through Tim Visser, who collected Marcus Smith’s cross-field kick to touch down in the corner. Smith sliced the conversion wide and Irish led by two points.

High octane and frenetic, there was no let-up as both sides looked to put a marker down ahead of the season opener at Twickenham in three weeks’ time. However, on 16 minutes referee Wayne Barnes stopped play for 20 minutes as Luke Wallace was stretchered off with a serious hip injury.

When play resumed, kicking machine Bell arrowed a penalty between the uprights to extend Irish’s lead to 10-5, before summer recruit Du Plessis crashed over from close range. Bell pulled the conversion wide with his side 15-5 in front.

Looking to take their 10-point advantage into the break, Irish’s defensive line was breached on the stroke of half-time as Joe Marchant scythed his way through to touch down. Teenager Smith missed the conversion and Irish led 15-10 at the interval.

Despite a string of changes at half-time, the game went from strength to strength with much the same intensity throughout. Five minutes into the second period Alofa Alofa stretched over in the corner, with James Lang converting to put Quins in front for the first time in the afternoon.

Showing character in abundance however, winger Alex Lewington scored the first of his two scores when Ben Meehan unleashed him into the corner. Bell slotted home the touchline conversion to regain Irish’s advantage at 22-17.

Lewington then bagged his brace, intercepting a pass on halfway before sprinting in under the posts in style. Bell’s simple conversion increased the margin to 29-17.  

With Irish looking to push home their advantage, the Twickenham Stoop outfit had other ideas as they registered two late scores courtesy of Ward to win the game 31-29.

London Irish: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Matt Williams, 12 Fergus Mulchrone, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Scott Steele, 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 2 David Paice (c), 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 4 Josh McNally, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 6 Mike Coman, 7 Blair Cowan, 8 Ofisa Treviranus

Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Will Lloyd, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Ben Ransom, 23 Senitiki Nayalo, 24 Conor Gilsenan, 25 Lasha Lomidze, 26 Napolioni Nalaga, 27 Luke McLean, 28 Ciaran Hearn, 29 Jacob Atkins


Props: Lewis Boyce, Will Collier, Mark Lambert, Josh McNulty, Phil Swainston
Hookers: Joe Gray, Dave Ward
Second rows: Ben Glynn, James Horwill, Charlie Matthews, George Merrick
Back row: Jack Clifford, Dino Lamb, Chris Robshaw, Stan South, Luke Wallace, Archie White

Half-backs: Danny Care, James Lang, Dave Lewis, Charlie Mulchrone, Marcus Smith, Tim Swiel
Centres: Joe Marchant, Jamie Roberts, Frances Saili, Harry Sloan, Winston Stanley 
Wingers: Alofa Alofa, Tim Visser, Charlie Walker, Marland Yarde 
Full-backs: Mike Brown, Ross Chisholm

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