Harlequins were made to work very hard to overcome Bristol 21-19 in their London Double Header clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
Tom Varndell and Tusi Pisi looked to have put newly promoted Bristol ahead at the break, only for Marland Yarde and Joe Marchant to turn the score around within two minutes of half-time.
Ryan Edwards restored Bristol’s lead after the break, but Nick Evans’ string of penalties ensured Harlequins recorded the win.
In their first Premiership game since 2009, Bristol were far the better side in the opening exchanges, and they took the lead that they deserved through Varndell.
After being bundled into touch moments before, Varndell raced in for an interception before going over from short range. Gavin Henson converted, and he was back on kicking duties minutes later.
lthough Nick Evans sliced the gap down to four points, the second try of the game came on the half hour mark. Pisi grabbed it, wonderfully cutting through the hosts’ midfield before crashing over. Henson added the extra two, though he was forced off afterwards having received a late hit.
But despite a disappointing first 38 minutes from Quins, the final two of the half were something else. They opened their try scoring for the season from a line-out, with Yarde finding enough room at the back to cross the line. Evans failed to convert, but made no mistake a minute later.
Marchant and Evans combined to put the hosts a point in front at the break, but there were real question marks over a suspect looking pass in the build up.
Despite that late setback, Bristol came out the other side of half-time quickly. Edwards made the most of a spillage, claiming possession past the line and making the most of Marchant’s mistake.
That only succeeded in waking Quins up however, as they began to throw more and more at the Bristol defence. Evans sent a penalty through to cut the gap down to a solitary point, and with 20 still to play the game was finely poised.
Evans was enjoying a good start to the campaign, snatching the lead back with another penalty as Harlequins started to take control in the middle of the park.
Bristol were still offering threats however, with Olly Robinson’s introduction adding some impetus as both sides started to tire. Ruaridh Jackson missed a penalty with five minutes left on the clock, and with only a couple of points between the sides the Twickenham crowd was promised a frantic finale.
Bristol continued to press as they aimed to make it the perfect return to the top division, but they were beaten by the clock and despite a strong showing, left HQ with a 21-19 defeat.
Tries: Yarde, Marchant
Pens: Evans 3
Tries: Varndell, Pisi, Edwards
Cons: Henson 2
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (c), 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sam Twomey, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Alofa Alofa
Bristol: 15 Jack Wallace, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Jack Lam (c), 6 Jon Fisher, 5 Ben Glynn, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Mitch Eadie, 22 Rhodri Williams, 23 Ben Mosses
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Greg Macdonald, Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kitt