HARLEQUINS sealed qualification for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with a convincing win over a stubborn Connacht at the Stoop.
Quins took some time to subdue an enterprising Irish side and were fortunate to lead 6-3 after the first half hour.
Their set scrum then emphasised their superiority to ensure there was no way back for the Irish, who were briefly reduced to 12 men in the second half.
Quins’ final game in Pool 3 is away at Biarritz on Friday. The result of that match will determine whether they can secure a home tie in the competition when it resumes in April.
Connacht had the first opportunity for points. They capitalised on a Quins mistake to break out of their own 22 and, had full-back Robbie Henshaw passed outside to Tiernan O’Halloran, a try seemed a probability, but Henshaw passed inside and the chance was lost.
After eight minutes the hosts had their first chance and Nick Evans made no mistake with his penalty kick but that score was soon nullified by one from Matthew Jarvis.
Evans put Quins back into the lead with another penalty after Jason Harris-Wright was penalised for not releasing before the visitors were then dealt a further blow when their No.8 Eoin McKeon limped off, to be replaced by Mick Kearney.
The first quarter was evenly contested with both sides moving the ball at nearly every opportunity but careless handling prevented any tries.
Connacht were unfortunate not to pick up the first try when a clever pass saw O’Halloran easily breach the home defence, but after a 35-metre run, the wing was hauled down by Ugo Monye just short of the line.
Evans missed a penalty and declined to take another as Quins opted for a more attacking option and it paid dividends when they were awarded a penalty try following a succession of scrum infringements by the visitors. Evans converted and added a penalty to give his side a 16-3 interval lead.
Within two minutes of the restart, Harlequins had sealed the match. A brilliant run from Mike Brown saw him beat three defenders before sending Tom Williams away on a 40-metre run to the line for a try which Evans converted.
Connacht were reduced to 13 men when firstly Johnny O’Connor foolishly picked up a yellow card as he deliberately impeded a Quins tackler and almost immediately, Fetu’u Vainikolo went the same way for an obstruction on Monye as the winger raced for a possible touchdown.
Williams finished off a routine three-quarter movement for his second try before Joe Marler and Connacht replacement Ethienne Reynecke were sin-binned for fighting.
For a minute Connacht were down to 12 players before Vainikolo and O’Connor returned and it was the latter who deservedly collected a try for the Irish by driving over from close range.
Back came Quins for the final say with first Monye celebrating his achievement with a solo effort for the bonus point try before late converted tries from replacements George Lowe and Ben Botica ensured an emphatic victory.