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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Harlequins secure semi-final place in European Rugby Challenge Cup



Finishing top of their Pool in the European Rugby Challenge Cup, Harlequins went into this quarter-final game as favourites for a semi-final place. It has been a tough time for both teams during the recent Premiership games – London Irish fighting to remain in the top-tier of English Rugby; Harlequins teetering on a top 4 finish. The European clash offered a hope of silverware for both teams.

The evening kick-off ensured a flood-lit game; the earlier overcast and threatening sky cleared to leave a brighter evening and an exciting atmosphere.

Support for both teams cheered around the Twickenham Stoop, knowing only a win would be enough.

London Irish had an early penalty kick into touch for a line-out however their possession was short-lived with a scrum being awarded to the hosts.

The power of the Quins' scrum shone through, earning Botica his own kick into touch for a attacking line-out. They secured the ball but a forward pass handed a scrum to the Exiles. They fed the ball to cries of 'not straight' but play continued. Danny Care made a sharp tackle on their scrum-half McKibbin however their number 9 was able to offload. A good chase from Quins forced Irish to slice into touch.

The line-out was won by Quins; the ball sent to the wing and back again before reaching the arms of Luke Wallace who crossed in the corner for a try. Botica failed to add to the conversion: Harlequins 5 – 0 London Irish after 8 minutes.

The restart was gathered well by the hosts however pressure from Irish forced play back into their 22 before Care box-kicked into touch. The hosts stole line-out ball and opted to run from deep. They made good ground but knocked-on under tackle.

Despite the early domination by Quins, it was the Exiles who found themselves awarded a penalty after the hosts failed to hit straight in the scrum. Irish progressed into the 22. Botica made a thumping tackle but this slowed them down only briefly. With 12 minutes gone, London Irish found themselves with a shot at the posts. Their number 10 Geraghty slotted it neatly between the uprights and over the north stand.

The restart was secured by Irish who then kicked long. Botica returned the favour. Irish then gained ground after a returned high-ball was fumbled by Quins, There was a heart-in-mouth moment as the hosts were forced back over their own try line but Captain Care worked his magic and side-stepped his way out of the danger zone. The ball ended up in touch; Irish secured the line-out and came again however a penalty for holding on just outside Quins' 22 allowed the hosts to kick to safety.

The line-out on the halfway failed to see Quins move up the field, instead Irish forced play back into the host's half. The hosts won the line-out which followed, formed a maul and made some progress before Care box-kicked taking play into the Irish half. The Exiles were then penalised for obstruction and another line-out just short of the try line allowed Visser to cross the whitewash. The try was, however, disallowed by the TMO (television match official) following an obstruction by Brown.

Irish kicked for a line-out taking play back to the half-way line. The visitors secured the ball however an interception by Care gave Quins another 5 points as he darted to the whitewash. Botica added the extra two points. Harlequins 12 – 3 London Irish after 22 minutes,

The restart was sent long and Irish regathered. Quins were penalised for going off their feet allowing the Exiles' Geraghty a straight shot at the posts, pulling three points back: Harlequins 12 – 6 London Irish with 24 minutes gone.

The restart was not taken cleanly but slapped back into Care's hands. The hosts made slow progress attacking the centre before sending the ball to the wing. Irish were penalised for straying offside and Botica again lined up the posts. 26 minutes gone and Quins pulled away again. Harlequins 15 – 6 London Irish.

Irish kept possession at the restart and ran the ball into the 22. They sent a grubber kick through and the TMO was again called into action. Try was awarded to the visitors number 13 Mulchrone. Their fly-half Geraghty added a tough conversion and after 29 minutes they had pulled themselves to within 2 points: Harlequins 15 – 13 London Irish.

The restart produced a penalty for Irish who now seemed to have the upper hand. Despite contesting the line-out Quins were unable to steal the ball. Irish kicked into the 22 allowing the hosts to gather and kick to safety.

A line-out was awarded to Irish still within the host's half. The tackles were coming thick and fast but slowly the Exiles scrambled their way up the pitch. They opted to kick but this simply handed possession back to Quins – short-lived possession, however, as Quins were again penalised for going off their feet. Another kick to the posts for Irish. For the first time this game London Irish found themselves ahead: Harlequins 15 – 16 London Irish.

Brown gathered a challenging high-ball on the restart allowing Quins to retain possession. A penalty shortly followed allowing the hosts to retake the lead. Botica's boot stayed true: Harlequins 18 – 16 London Irish after 36 minutes.

Brown was on form tonight as he confidently gathered another high ball. Possession, however, was kicked between the two teams – a time to settle nerves and try for territory. Yarde gathered the next high-ball and along with Visser attempted to run. This ended the aerial battle but meant Quins spilled the ball. Irish were then awarded a penalty which they kicked for an attacking line-out.

The supporters in the stands raised their voices and a chorus of 'Harlequins – Irish' sang out as the fans had their own battle off the pitch. It was Quins who then won possession and kicked into touch to end the first half.

Half Time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 18 – 16 London Irish

Both teams re-emerged with the belief they could win this match.

Quins made early strides along the wing but when the ball went into touch following a foot chase it was Irish who were awarded the throw. They secured the ball and Quins were penalised. The Exiles kicked long for a line-out in the Quins' half. The defence was panicked momentarily as Irish darted through missed tackles.

A line-out was awarded in the host's 22 for the visitors. They secured, formed a maul and headed towards the whitewash. Quins had no answer to the strength facing them. TMO again called into action. A try was awarded to McKibbin. The conversion was added and Irish again return to the lead: Harlequins 18 – London Irish 23 after 45 minutes.

The replacements started to enter play: Sinckler came on for Jones; Ward on for Gray.

A yellow card was issued to the Exiles Paice following a dangerous tackle. Botica opted for the posts but missed the opportunity to close the gap.

Brown gathered the restart and Quins ran the ball out of their own half. Their visit into opposition territory was short-lived as Quins were pushed back to their 22. They won line-out ball and kicked into the waiting arms of the Irish number 15 Fenby who ran it back. A knock-on by Quins then handed a scrum to the visitors. They were forced to make a substitution for a head injury assessment on McCusker.

When play resumed Danny Care made another superb tackle on his opposite number. McKibbin, however, was able to offload and Irish powered through via Maitland for another try. An easy conversion in front of the posts was added and the Exiles were now running away with the game: Harlequins 18 – 30 London Irish after 50 minutes.

Merrick off/Matthews on for Quins.

An urgency now appeared in Quins' play and they soon found themselves gracing the Irish whitewash. Advantage was being played for a high tackle on Brown and the TMO once again was asked for his insights.

Multiple replays slowed the game but the try was eventually awarded to Danny Care in the 52nd minute. Botica again missed the conversion: Harlequins 23 – 30 London Irish.

The restart was gathered by Quins but Botica kicked back to Irish. They returned possession and Brown decided to run the ball. The Exiles turned over possession and pushed up to the 22. Quins stole it back and advantage was being played. The referee again chose to go to the TMO after speaking with his touch judge. Irish were given a talking to after Visser was tackled off the ball but no card was issued.

Quins were awarded a penalty and kicked for an attacking line-out. They secured the ball and crossed the line. The referee again went to the TMO. Slow claps emanated from both groups of supporters. The try was disallowed and Paice returned to the field for Irish having served his sin bin. McCusker also returned having been declared fit to continue.

Play resumed with a scrum to Irish on the 5 metre line. They secured the ball but good pressure from Quins earned the hosts a line-out just outside the 22. Matthews secured the ball and a maul formed. It made progress but then Irish put the brakes on – scrum to the Exiles.

This time the scrum was strong for the hosts and they earned a penalty. Botica kicked for a line-out just short of the try line. They gathered, formed a maul and powered over the line. This time the referee made his own decision and awarded a try to Luke Wallace. Botica again missed the conversion which would have leveled the scores, pulling the ball wide of the posts: Harlequins 28 – 30 London Irish.

The restart was sent long and Quins ran it out from deep, being ushered into touch just short of the halfway line.

'Come on you Quins' resonated around the Twickenham Stoop. Mulchrone was called off the pitch for a head injury assessment allowing Steele to take his place in the Irish set-up in the 63rd minute.

Scrum to Quins following the line-out but a penalty was awarded to Irish. The Exiles kicked to the corner and won the line-out. Seeing an opportunity they attempted a cross-field kick which Brown intercepted beautifully. He made some strides before being chased down. Possession went back to Irish who were looking very dangerous. Mulchrone returned to the field, having passed the injury assessment.

A line-out was awarded to Irish still within Quins territory. The hosts stole possession and ran the ball but a loose pass missed Visser and rolled into touch on the opposite wing.

Irish ensured they kept possession from the ensuing line-out and pushed up the field. Quins seemed to have no answer for the marauding Exiles and only accidental obstruction from the Irish halted their progression.

Quins kicked for a line-out which they secured and then grubber-kicked through. Brown chased but the ball drifted into touch. Irish took a quick line-out but under the increasing Quins' pressure the visitors sliced the ball into touch. Quins won the ensuing line-out and earned a penalty. Care pointed to the posts and Botica steadied himself.

A cheer resonated around the Twickenham Stoop as Harlequins regained the lead with 8 minutes left: Harlequins 31 – 30 London Irish.

Harlequins gathered the restart and kicked into the visitor's half. They allowed the ball to bounce giving Robshaw important seconds to charge down the kick Irish attempted after gathering. Penalty to Quins and Botica found touch in the corner.

The hosts secured line-out ball and again formed a maul; the captain completed the manoeuvre earning himself a third try - hat-trick for Danny Care.

A difficult conversion followed for Botica but he regained his rhythm and added the extra 2 points: Harlequins 38 – 30 London Irish.

The Twickenham Stoop was once again buzzing as Visser then Sinckler powered through the defence. An attempted grubber kick ran into touch and play was halted as Sinckler was clearly in distress. After treatment from the medics, Sinckler was back on his feet.

Irish were awarded a penalty and kicked for a line-out just inside Quins' 22. The Exiles knocked the ball back and Quins kept them pinned in their own half. Irish sent the ball to the wing where they were able to cross the halfway line. They kept ball in hand; Quins stole possession and were awarded advantage but they kicked long, missing touch.

It was a heart-in-mouth moment as images of the home game against Northampton Saints came to people's minds as the clock had counted down. Visser chased and attempted to touch the ball down over the try line. It was disallowed after the TMO reviewed the camera angles and no downward pressure was seen. It was the final play of the very tense quarter-final clash.

Full Time at the Twickenham Stoop: Harlequins 38 – 30 London Irish

A hat-trick of tries from Danny Care and a brace from Luke Wallace helped Harlequins into a home semi-final of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. Harlequins will face Grenoble in the final four.

Next week play returns to the Premiership as Harlequins face Saracens at Wembley Stadium.
posted by Radio Jackie News Team @ 1:06 pm  

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