LONDON Welsh suffered a narrow defeat at home to Harlequins yesterday, but showed the sort of fighting spirit they will need to stand any chance of retaining their Aviva Premiership status, writes SIMON WILLIAMS.

The performance at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium will give them some heart going into next weekend’s crunch match against fellow relegation contenders Newcastle Falcons.

But it was also a missed opportunity to add to their dismal league tally of just one point from 12 games this season.

Welsh started on the front foot and dominated the early exchanges.

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In the second minute, Welsh centre Nic Reynolds made a good break into the Quins 22, but the visiting defence held firm.

Two minutes later, a fine kick by Welsh full back Will Robinson was taken by Nick Scott, but the winger was tackled by England international Marland Yarde as he went over the line and there were enough defenders to prevent him grounding the ball.

Another fine kick, this time by Welsh’s New Zealand international, Piri Weepu, playing at fly half, almost put Seb Stegmann in for a score in the seventh minute, but the right winger, while over the try line, was unable to take the ball and it bounced off his right arm and out.

With so much pressure, one felt that Welsh needed to score if they were to set a platform to win the game.

And their pressure eventually told in the 22nd minute when they got the try their dominance deserved.

Robinson fed Scott who cut inside to put scrum half Paul Rowley clear to touch down under the posts.

Robinson added the extras to give Welsh a 7-0 lead, but Quins immediately hit back with sustained pressure.

They turned down one kickable penalty opportunity to go for the lineout in an attempt to get a try.

While Welsh were able to keep that attack at bay, they were caught napping in the 27th minute.

Referee John-Paul Doyle refused to hold up play for a bad injury to Welsh hooker Nathan Vella and let Quins take a penalty on the other side of the field for an earlier infringement.

Scrum half Karl Dickson took a quick tap and went over for a try. Tim Swiel missed the conversion, but Welsh woes were compounded with Vella stretchered off and taken to hospital with an ankle injury.

Undeterred, the Exiles continued to attack and were rewarded when Robinson kicked a penalty to increase their lead to 10-5 in the 32nd minute.

It was crucial that the home side held out until half-time, but two minutes before the break, Yarde went over near the corner and Swiel kicked a difficult conversion to put the visitors into a 12-10 lead.

Robinson missed a tricky penalty attempt early in the second period and instead, it was Quins who extended the lead in the 52nd minute.

Yarde slipped a couple of Welsh tackles and put replacement prop Kyle Sinckler in for a try in the corner.

Swiel missed the conversion to keep Welsh well within touch, and when a Robinson penalty reduced the arrears to 17-13, they were still in touch.

However, the visitors looked the most likely to score, and ended hopes of a Welsh comeback when Tom Williams scored in the 72nd minute.

Swiel converted to secure a 24-13 winning margin.

With Welsh 15 points adrift of London Irish and Newcastle, the game against the latter next Sunday is surely a must-win match if the Exiles are to have any hope of retaining their Aviva Premiership status.

London Welsh: Robinson, Stegmann, Reynolds (Tincknell 71), Jewell, Scott, Weepu (Barkley 69), Rowley (Lewis 59), Trevett (Reeves 70), Vella (Britton 28), Vea, West (McCaffrey 57), Down, P Browne, Kirwan, Fonua (Pienaar 72). Rep unused: Cooper.

Harlequins: Lindsay-Hague, Yarde, Hopper, Lowe (Botica 76), Tikoirotuma (Williams 53), Swiel, Dickson (Care 53), Lambert (Marfo 78), Gray (Buchanan 72), Collier (Sinckler 45), Matthews (Merrick 28), Twomey, Trayfoot, Clifford, Easter.  Rep unused: Chisholm.

Attendance: 3,034.

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