Harlequins maintain unbeaten start against Leicester
September 22, 2012
Highlights: Leicester Tigers 9-22 Harlequins
Defending Premiership champions Harlequins won a replay of the play-off final against Leicester and laid down a marker of their intentions to defend their title when they recorded a 22-9 victory at Welfod Road that continues their unbeaten start to the season.
Toby Flood had kicked two penalties to put Leicester 6-3 up with Nick Evans hitting one in reply for Quins before wing Tom Williams scored the only try a quarter of the way into the match. He appeared on George Robson's shoulder to take a deft pass and run in unopposed. However, as he did he appeared to pull a groin muscle and quickly made way for Ross Chisholm.
From then on Conor O'Shea's side were well in control. Danny Care struck a close-range drop-goal, while Evans added another three penalties to keep Harlequins out of reach for Leicester, whose only reply was a third Flood penalty.
The hosts were without two key international backs due to injury, England centre Manu Tuilagi and former Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy, the club captain. Their places went to Matt Smith and Scott Hamilton, whose place on the wing was taken by Niall Morris. Number eight Jordan Crane took over as captain on his first start following a season's absence with a knee injury.
Harlequins brought in Matt Hopper for injured centre George Lowe, while lock Olly Kohn and flanker Maurie Fa'asavalu returned to the pack.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster and forwards coach Graham Rowntree were in the crowd for the big match of the day between first and third in the table. With the autumn internationals just seven weeks away they were there to cast an eye over a third of the England squad, and Harlequins winger Ugo Monye was being monitored for the vacancy on the wing caused by an injury to Ben Foden.
But it was Leicester's Irish winger Morris who made the first big impression with a searing counter attack after Harlequins had kept hold of the ball for a good three minutes after the Tigers' kick-off. Leicester huffed and puffed without looking like scoring a try but Flood put them 3-0 up with a sixth minute penalty. The lead lasted just nine minutes as Evans slotted a long range penalty after Leicester's usually dominant scrum was penalised.
Flood restored Leicester's lead with his second penalty in the 19th minute of a game which was badly in need of someone to spark it into life and Harlequins winger Williams obliged with a try at the end of the first quarter. It was created by Evans' fine off load to lock Robson who provided the scoring pass for Williams to scamper under the posts with Evans adding the conversion to give the visitors a 10-6 lead.
Williams went off straight away with an injury and was replaced by Chisholm and seven minutes later Harlequins stretched their lead when England scrum-half Care dropped a surprise goal from just left of the posts.
Flood had a chance to pull three points back after Harlequins collapsed a scrum but he was wide with his penalty while Evans hit a post with a long range penalty minutes later. Leicester wasted a good chance right on half time when Smith broke down the left and stepped inside but his pass went behind Steve Mafi and straight into touch.
Harlequins dominated the opening exchanges of the second half and Evans stretched their lead to 16-6 with his second penalty in the 48th minute. They may have felt they should have had more to show for their pressure after the referee went upstairs to the TMO after a scramble on the line by Mafi following Evans' kick to the corner.
Harlequins turned the screw at a succession of scrums and might have had a penalty try when Leicester collapsed one on their line. Leicester rung the changes, bringing on props Dan Cole and Logovi'i Muliplola and number eight Thomas Waldrom and Leicester immediately stepped up a gear after lifting the siege.
Scrum-half Sam Harrison made a fabulous break only to see his side penalised at the breakdown, and Harlequins centre Matt Hopper almost made them pay with a searing run to the Leicester 22 before being tackled.
Chisholm pulled off a fantastic last-ditch tackle to stop Leicester flanker Julian Salvi scoring after a great break and then had to helped off due to a leg injury.
Flood kicked a simple penalty to put Leicester back in it at 9-16 but Evans cancelled that out with his third and then kicked another with five minutes left. Leicester mounted a strong finish but failed to break down a resilient Harlequins defence.
Harlequins director of rugby O'Shea was delighted with the way his team had dealt with the intimidating atmosphere at Welford Road, to record his club's only win there since the start of the Premiership.
"In the first half we showed what good rugby team we are and in the second we showed a lot of heart," he said. "There were a lot of players out of position who put their bodies on the line."
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