Saturday, 12th August 2017 @ 17:59
Harlequins trailed London Irish 29-17 with just five minutes to play before a late Dave Ward brace helped the visitors to victory in the third annual Cunningham Duncombe Series.
Tim Visser and Joe Marchant scored for Quins in the first half but they headed into the break trailing 15-10 in their second warm up match of the pre-season.
John Kingston changed his entire squad by the second half as he made the most out of his 33-man squad. Alofa Alofa would give them their first lead of the match before back-to-back scores put Irish in the box seat entering the final quarter.
However there was a final twist to the encounter as second half captain Dave Ward scored twice in the final five minutes as Quins stole back the Cunningham Duncombe plate with a late 29-31 win.
Harlequins arrived at Hazelwood on the back of a five-try win over Bristol last week at Cleve RFC. They looked to continue their momentum against local rivals London Irish who they will face again in the opening match of the Aviva Premiership rugby season in three weeks’ time.
It was Quins who bolted out the blocks the brighter, led by 18-year old fly-half Marcus Smith who was electric in the opening encounters, showing skills beyond his years.
While David Paice would give the home side an early 7-0 lead, the lively Smith helped put his side on the board with a cross field kick that was collected by Tim Visser to score in the corner.
The exciting start was soon dampened. First by a yellow card to Joe Gray, and in the same phase, a serious injury to back row Luke Wallace who was stretchered off the pitch with a dislocated hip following a 20-minute break in play.
When the match re-started Tommy Bell extended the lead with a penalty before Petrus Du Plessis banged over from close range to make it 15-5.
The momentum was with the home side but Harlequins found a way back into the match before the break as Joe Marchant spun out of a tackle to score. Smith missed the conversion as Quins went into the break trailing 15-10.
After a brief half time interval, Harlequins began the second spell with a vastly different side. Kingston made 13 changes, with only Mike Brown and Dave Ward, who both entered the match before halftime as replacements, remaining on the field. Ward being handed the leadership duties from new Club captain James Horwill.
The new look side was under pressure immediately before a defensive turnover on their own line ended up seeing Alofa crossing the whitewash at the other end less than a minute later. Replacement fly-half James Lang kicked the conversion and they had themselves their first lead of the afternoon.
The lead was short lived as Alex Lewington crossed twice after a lapse in defence, and an intercept cost Harlequins dearly. A 15-17 lead turning into a 29-17 deficit within ten minutes.
New recruit Francis Saili would enter the fray late as he looked to help turn around the encounter in the final 15 minutes. Fellow summer singings Dave Lewis went close after an intercept of his own but he was hauled down just metres short.
Down to the final five minutes and an entertaining match went up another level, at least for the Quins faithful. An overthrown line out from Irish saw Ward pounce and burrow over from close range to make it 29-24.
With time almost up on the clock, Ward completed his brace after an inside ball from front row compatriot Mark Lambert put him in under the posts. The simplest of conversions from Lang giving Quins the 29-31 win as full time was blown.
The victory wins back the Cunningham Duncombe plate for Harlequins, a series launched in 2015 named in the memory of London Irish fly-half Jarrod Cunningham and Harlequins scrum-half Nick Duncombe.
Quins will complete their pre-season campaign next Saturday as they take on Greene King IPA Championship side Jersey Reds at The Stoop, kick-off 14:00. Tickets for that match are free for Harlequins Members and start from £10 for general sale tickets by clicking here.