Quins run riot in West London derby to solidify top-four spot


For the first time this season, the Harlequins emerged victorious against London Irish thanks to a comprehensive 41-14 win at the Brentford Community Stadium that keeps themselves in pole position for the play-offs. 

Whilst the rivalry between London Irish and Halrequins may be more friendly than spiteful, it is often said that form goes out of the window for derby matches. However, this was not the case when the two sides clashed in front of 13,000 in west London. 

Both sides reverted back to their tried and tested following their cup upsets, and there was a good atmosphere reverberating around the Brentford Community Stadium going into this one. This was quickly lulled by a scrappy start to the encounter, with neither side able to string phases together. 

After a quarter of an hour, Paddy Jackson invigorated the crowd as he capitalised on the numbers his side had on the wing to score in the corner. Just minutes later though, Harlequins would peg them back thanks to a simple catch and drive converted by Jack Walker. 

It was shortly after this that there was a pivotal moment that could have changed the entire outcome of the game, as Ollie Hassell-Collins went over for what everyone in the stadium thought was a try to regain the Exiles’ lead. However, upon review, it was found that in fact, Hassell-Collins had lost control of the ball moments before a relatively simple grounding. It was the sort of mistake that could be ‘lived to regret’, and lived to regret it was. Ten minutes later, after Quins had squeezed the Irish defence for all they were worth, they made it count. 

An exquisite looping ball from Marcus Smith perfectly served up Cadan Murley with a direct run into the corner. Some would say the pass was almost Antoine Dupont-esque, although perhaps not those across the channel. 

Billy Millard’s side then really put Irish to the sword with two more late first-half tries thanks to another Marcus Smith assist setting up Huw Jones, before Jack Walker strolled in for his second of the afternoon after Nick Phipps was sent to the bin. 

Down to 14 men and 15 points down, it was imperative that Declan Kidney’s side found a reaction after half-time if they were to have their say in this contest. Initially, the Irishman’s half-time team talk seemed to work, and there was a flurry from the home side at the start of the second half.

It was, however, ultimately a flurry that bore no fruit, and moments before Nick Phipps re-entered play, Danny Care scored a try having prevented one moments before. It was free-flowing rugby from the reigning champions, with slick offloads from Joe Marchant and Huw Jones proving too much for London Irish to handle. 

After that, it was indeed an uphill task for London Irish to haul themselves back into contention – a task that was made even harder by multiple stoppages midway through the half. 

The game appeared to be petering out as the final ten minutes approached, but Quins were not done yet. Andre Esterhuizen joined the party as the big South African showed his power with a brutal handoff that allowed him to cut through the Irish game line like a knife through butter. 

Not to be outdone, another South African would follow it up with a try of his own, but this time it was London Irish’s Benhard Janse Van Rensburg who would go over thanks to a series of neat five-yard passes. At this point, it appeared that the hosts would get the last laugh, though Harlequins had a statement victory in mind, and executed as such with an instant response thanks to Huw Jones with his brace. 

Irish will surely ponder what could have been were it not for that dropped Hassell-Collins try, but they were flat up against extremely talented opposition for large parts of the game. Harlequins were stronger, faster, and had better execution.

Oftentimes sport can be over-analysed for deeper meanings and underlying reasonings more than a secondary school English teacher, but this was an instance where one team were simply better than the other. London Irish are a solid Premiership outfit who will be battling it out for those European Champions Cup places and looked as such against a Harlequins side who are fingertips away from reaching the playoffs to defend their Premiership title. 

Defeat makes reaching the top four a big ask for the Exiles, with a nine-point buffer to make up in three games and plenty of teams ahead of them in better form. That being said, their three remaining league games are all against opposition who sit below them, those being Newcastle Falcons, Wasps and Bath Rugby. Should they win all three of those games, then they will give themselves a fighting chance, though they will be reliant on a pretty specific set of results to come in. 

However, London Irish still have much to play for, even if they are not able to pull off a late playoff miracle. Declan Kidney’s side have a Premiership Rugby Cup Semi-Final to look forward to at the end of the month, and additionally, they await their European fate.

With one final round of group action imminent, Irish await to see whether they will finish in top spot in their group, or whether they will go through in second. This relies on the result between Edinburgh Rugby and bottom side Section Paloise, as the Scottish side can take top spot should they emerge victorious. In this instance, Irish would welcome the Northampton Saints at the Brentford Community Stadium. However, should Edinburgh be on the wrong end of an upset, then the Exiles will face Bath Rugby in Brentford for a place in the Quarter-Finals. 

As for the triumphant Harlequins, they already know their European fate, that being a two-legged last 16 tie with Montpellier Herault Rugby, starting with a trip across the channel next week. Billy Millard’s side also face an intense Premiership running that consists of games against Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs. One more win may well be enough to see them into the playoffs, but it will not come easy against any of those sides. 

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