Harlequins scrape past Premiership newcomers Bristol at Twickenham
Last Updated: 03/09/16 7:59pm
Bristol demonstrated the target for their return to the Aviva Premiership extends beyond mere survival by giving Harlequins a fright before succumbing 21-19 at Twickenham.
Their seven-year absence from the top flight proved no obstacle as they led for most of the match and it was only when Nick Evans slotted a 65th-minute penalty that Quins occupied the driving seat.
Tusi Pisi, a summer arrival from the Sunwolves, provided a touch of class at fly-half and the veteran Samoa international was the best player on display in the second act of the traditional London double-header.
It was not the ideal start to John Kingston's reign as successor to the departed Conor O'Shea with a scrappy Quins team parading five capped England stars labouring to victory before a crowd of 47,029.
Their captain Danny Care endured a torrid afternoon with his errors contributing to two of Bristol's tries, while their own touchdown through Joe Marchant should have been chalked off for a forward pass.
Early pressure on their line soon gave way to a bright spell from Bristol, who forced an opening through centre Will Hurrell before renewing their attack down the right wing.
The majority of the opening quarter was being played in Quins' half with Pisi offering the underdogs direction, his quick hands creating space for Tom Varndell before the cover defence arrived.
There was no stopping Varndell in the 21st minute, however, as the former England wing picked off a loose floated pass from Care and raced over for an intercept try, converted by Gavin Henson.
Care was partly to blame when Bristol plundered a second try, falling off a feeble tackle on Pisi to enable the Samoan to weave his way out of heavy track and over the whitewash.
Henson converted and then departed, seemingly as a result of an earlier collision with Joe Marler, and with the first half drawing to a close Quins finally burst into life.
Marland Yarde finished off a lineout catch and drive and the 2012 champions scored a second moments later when the England wing found a gap before sending Marchant over with a clear forward passed that was somehow given the all clear by the TMO.
Bristol reacted shortly after the interval when wing Ryan Edwards kicked ahead and fell on the ball over the line after it squirted out of the grasp of Marchant.
England forwards coach Steve Borthwick watched on from the stands as the West Country club, positioned close to the posts, drove Quins back at one scrum and then won a second as they desperately sought to protect their 19-15 lead.
Care's torrid afternoon continued as he cost Quins 10 yards for back-chatting referee Luke Pearce after a penalty had been awarded against his England colleague Chris Robshaw.
Evans kicked three points to narrow the deficit and then added his third penalty of the match as the lead changed hands and Quins clung on to victory.