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A Danny Care try and a late penalty try saw the hosts home in front of 82,000 supporters at Twickenham, with the latter denying Brian Smith’s side a losing bonus point.
It was a fairly even start to the contest with both sides refusing to give an inch. Nick Evans put Quins on the board after seven minutes, but Ian Humphreys duly replied after 13 minutes to put Irish level.
Evans and Humphreys traded penalties again roughly 10 minutes later to keep the scores level at 6-6.
The two fly halves had two further difficult kicks at goal that drifted narrowly wide. Harlequins just edged territory and possession in the first half although Irish refused to give the hosts any time on the ball and were defending valiantly. At half time it was Harlequins 6 London Irish 6.
Quins and Irish traded penalties again early into the second stanza. Evans first put Quins back in front before Humphreys put Irish level yet again with a sweetly struck kick from the right-hand touchline.
Danny Care crossed for the first try of the match on 52 minutes. The hosts had a lineout 5 metres out from the Irish line which the Exiles shutdown brilliantly. However as a result Danny Care went on a darting run and managed to burrow his way over. Evans converted to put daylight between the sides for the first time.
Humphreys pegged the lead back with two more penalty goals and with 15 minutes left the Exiles trailed by four points at 15-19.
However that was as close as Irish got with Quins scoring their second try three minutes from time to confirm the victory. Referee Greg Garner went under the posts to award a penalty try.
Irish visit Kingsholm next Saturday to take on Gloucester in the next round of Aviva Premiership rugby.
Score Sequence (London Irish first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-6, 6-6, 6-9, 9-9, 9-16, 12-16, 12-19, 15-19, 15-26
Scorers: harlequins: Penalties: Evans (7, 22, 43, 57); Tries: Care (52) penalty (78); Conversions: Evans (2); London Irish: Penalties: Humphreys (13, 24, 48, 56, 61)
15. Mike Brown (rep: Ben Botica, 60); 14. Tom Williams; 13. Matt Hopper; 12. Tom Casson (rep: George Lowe, 53); 11. Ugo Monye; 10. Nick Evans; 9. Danny Care; 1. Joe Marler; 2. Joe Gray (rep: Rob Buchanan, 59); 3. James Johnston; 4. Olly Kohn; 5. George Robson; 6. Maurie Fa’asavalu (rep: Tom Guest, 49); 7. Chris Robshaw (Captain); 8. Nick Easter
Replacements: 16. Rob Buchanan; 17. Mark Lambert; 18. Will Collier; 19. Charlie Matthews; 20. Tom Guest; 21. Karl Dickson; 22. Ben Botica; 23. George Lowe
15. Tom Homer; 14. Topsy Ojo; 13. Jonathan Joseph; 12. Sailosi Tagicakibau (rep: Guy Armitage, 79); 11. Marland Yarde; 10. Ian Humphreys; 9. Darren Allinson (rep: Pat Phibbs, 56); 1. Max Lahiff (rep: Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 70); 2. David Paice; 3. Halani Aulika (rep: Leo Halavatau, 77); 4. Bryn Evans; 5. Matt Garvey (rep: George Skivington, 70); 6. Declan Danaher (Captain); 7. Jebb Sinclair; 8. Chris Hala’ufia (rep: Jamie Gibson, 56)
Replacements: 16. Scott Lawson; 17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa; 18. Leo Halavatau; 19. George Skivington; 20. Jamie Gibson; 21. Guy Armitage; 22. Steven Shingler; 23. Pat Phibbs
Referee: Greg Garner
Attendance: 82, 000