Harlequins ended a five-game losing streak to reignite their hopes of being in the play-off mix with a Friday night win against Leicester Tigers.
But they came nowhere near securing a bonus point, which would have given them a greater chance of securing that vital fourth place to qualify.
A first half try from Danny Care, burrowing close to the line, and a second half burst from Semi Kunatani were enough to bring a deserved 23-19 victory but Quins seldom looked like crossing for the four tries which would have earned them a bonus point.
As things stand, they travel to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena in a fortnight to take on Wasps in their final regular-season fixture.
At least Northampton Saints, the team they are battling against to secure that final play-off slot, have an even tougher last day assignment away to league leaders Exeter Chiefs.
Head of rugby Paul Gustard maintains he is thinking about winning the play-offs, never mind just qualifying, but will have been relieved just to get back to winning ways after a potentially damaging run of defeats before the Tigers’ visit.
“We’ve made hard work of it over the last five weeks,” said the Quins boss. “We put ourselves in a great position 10 weeks ago and in the last four or five weeks, we haven’t had the results that we’ve wanted.
“Awful against Gloucester, okay against Saracens, good against Sale, but ill-disciplined, good against Saints but threw it away, good against Exeter but didn’t get that final score – so we’ve kind of made it tough. It’s a real shame because to miss out on the top four now would be disappointing.
“But if you ask where I hope to be at the end of the season, I hope to win it. There’s no point in entering something without the desire to win it, otherwise I might as well sit back in my armchair. I want to win it.”
Quins were worthy winners, although they were fortunate to get away with a first half sin-binning for Jack Clifford.
Four George Ford penalties put the Tigers 12-10 ahead at the break, in spite of Care’s score following a penalty to touch which set up a driving maul.
But two penalties after the restart from Marcus Smith restored Harlequins’ control in a scrappy, arm-wrestle of a match, before Kunatani made sure of the win.
Tigers, incredibly, are still not safe from relegation, after a dreadful campaign, but a last-gasp try from Mike Fitzgerald gave them a losing bonus point, which should be enough to help them avoid the unthinkable.
“We obviously needed four points today as a minimum, so the result came first,” Gustard said. “It was four points first. The aim was to try and get five of course.
“We started really really well, lost our way for 20 minutes, but then we were the dominant team. We just made too many mistakes in the final third, which has kind of been the story for us over the last five weeks. Our try scoring has dropped considerably – almost by 50 per cent – and we need to keep working on our attack.”
The final home fixture of the season signals the annual departure of a raft of players, among them back row warhorse James Horwill.
“I think what he’s done for rugby is more important than what he’s done for Harlequins,” said Gustard.
“He’s had four years here but a career that’s marked by the amount of caps that he’s earned [for Australia].
“First and foremost, he’s a great bloke – a real stand-up Aussie like you’d expect – says it straight, works his effing balls off in training and in games. He’ll always have our respect at this club.”