Please note the kick-off time for this match has changed from that originally advertised. This game will now kick-off at 4.30pm. .
His diligence and anticipation was to pay off handsomely as London Irish, to the bemusement of their many supporters in the superb 74,212 crowd, provided the former All Black with ample opportunities to kick for goal during this important Aviva Premiership match.
Evans did not disappoint the Harlequins supporters. He finished the match with nine successful kicks at goal out of ten attempts, a 23 point haul that sent the Exiles to their eighth successive defeat in all competitions.
On paper there was little to choose between the two starting line-ups, if anything London Irish was the more experienced. That advantage was left in the changing room as the men in green proceeded to gift their old rivals 18 first half points by conceding a sequence of penalties from which the accurate Evans duly made his neighbours pay.
The Exiles’ loyal supporters were left to ponder why experienced, international players did not get to grips with referee Andrew Small’s interpretation of the laws as they persistently fell foul of his decisions.
Unable to establish sustained ball control or field position, the Exiles were forced to live off scraps of possession and that does not suit their style of play.
Big name players failed to make an impact; instead it was Harlequins young guns that had the better of the exchanges.
Evans and his opposite number Chris Malone dominated the scoreboard throughout. The former All Black kicked six out of seven penalty kicks at goal in the first half; Malone responded with four from four to leave the score 18-12 at the break.
While Irish showed more purpose in the opening minutes of the second half, the fact that they had to play with 14 men for the first nine minutes due to Bob Casey’s sin-binning in the final minute of the first half, limited their effectiveness.
With both defences snuffling each other’s attacking initiatives comfortably, the more the game continued the odds increased on one, at most two, turning points deciding the outcome.
By the end of the third quarter with Evans having kicked seven penalty goals to Malone’s six, the crowd lost patience with the limited on-pitch spectacle and turned to the dreaded Mexican Wave for entertainment. The cacophony produced by the wave(s) impacted more positively on the home team who attacked with more purpose.
The decisive turning point of the match occurred in the 69th minute; Harlequins attacked through midfield, confronted by the Irish defence, centre Jordan Turner-Hall for once opted to kick and sent a well weighted grubber chip through the oncoming defenders. Quins’ outside centre George Lowe was quickest to respond and raced through to touchdown for what proved to be the only try of the match. Evans added to the extras to give his team a crucial two score lead of 10 points.
London Irish responded by mounting a series of sustained attacks in the Harlequins’ 22 and arguably played their best rugby of the match. But it proved to be another case of too little, too late as the home defence rallied and kept the Exiles at bay until referee Small’s whistle brought proceedings to a close.
Speaking after the match London Irish Head Coach Toby Booth said, "We have had a wretched run of results and I won't hide away from the fact but we are only half way through the season. We are obviously doing a lot of things to make sure this doesn't continue and still we haven't found the formula. It will be back to the drawing board but we will try not to be too over-reactive.
"The realism of what we have been through has left a scar. But we have to dust ourselves down because it is not going to right itself. We have to look at how and why and when we can do things better and I will certainly not shy away from that challenge."
Scorers: Harlequins: Try: Lowe (69); Conversion: Evans. Penalty goals: Evans 7 (5, 13, 19, 25, 35, 39, 53. London Irish: Penalty goals: Malone 6 (12, 17, 27, 37, 45, 58).
Scoring sequence (Harlequins first): 3-0, 3-3, 6-3, 6-6, 9-6, 12-6, 12-9, 15-9, 15-12, 18-12 (half-time) 18-15, 21-15, 21-18, 28-18.
Harlequins: 15. M Brown, 14. T Williams, 13. G Lowe, 12. J Turner-Hall, 11. U Monye, 10. N Evans, 9. D Care (sin-bin: 58-68)(rep: W Skinner, 69), 1. J Marler, 2. J Gray, 3. J Johston (rep: M Lambert, 58), 4.O Kohn (rep: T Vallejos, 60), 5. G Robson, 6. C Robshaw (captain), 7. W Skinner (rep: K Dickson, 60), 8. N Easter.
London Irish: 15. D Armitage, 14. T Ojo, 13. S Mapusua (rep: E Seveali’i, 64), 12. D Bowden, 11.S Tagicakibau, 10. C Malone, 9. P Hodgson, 1. C Dermody (captain)(rep: D Murphy, 64), 2. J Buckland, 3. F Rautenbach (rep: A Corbisiero, 47), 4. N Kennedy (rep: M Garvey, 64), 5.B Casey (sin-bin: 39-49), 6. R Thorpe (rep: K Roche, 64), 7. S Armitage, 8. G Stowers.
Referee: A Small (RFU)