Leicester pack a heavy punch

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The Independent Online
Leicester 24

Harlequins 9

WHEN the going gets heavy, the heavy get going and believe me the going does not get much heavier than this. Seven penalties, a pushover try and a try from a rolling maul is just about par for the course at Welford Road these days, but when the ground was all but flooded by a torrential downpour an hour or so before kick-off, Harlequins must have known that this was not to be their day. Despite that, for two-thirds of the match, admittedly with the substantial aid of their opponents, Harlequins made the best of a bad job.

In the end, though, they were overpowered by the vastly superior forces ranged against them. Leicester won as much ball as they could possibly cope with through Martin Johnson and Matt Poole at the line-out, while their front row, surely the most formidable trio in English rugby, took two strikes against the head, severely damaging the reputations of their opposition numbers in the process.

Leicester, whose ambition appears to have narrowed as the season has progressed, did attempt to make greater use of their backs in the early stages but if you do not play dry weather rugby in good conditions what hope have you got when it is wet? Jez Harris is a loyal club man who has served Leicester admirably in the past, but if they are seriously concerned about extending their horizons, then he will have to be replaced. Even his tactical kicking, the strongest part of his game, let him down yesterday and kept Quins in the game longer than was necessary for the total comfort of Leicester's partisan following.

Harlequins' troubles began and ended with their forwards. Chris Sheasby alone fought stoically in a hopeless cause, but even if they had found a way of releasing their backs it would have been no guarantee of success. Will Carling touched the ball only twice in the first half and I cannot recall him getting close to it in the second. But on both occasions he made a telling contribution with cleverly flighted kicks into the Leicester 22.

Remarkably, it was level- pegging at half-time, John Liley's penalty in the 18th minute being cancelled out two minutes later by one from Paul Challinor. Liley kicked three more penalties in quick succession as Leicester sought to lift the pace and force mistakes from opponents who were visibly tiring. It was hardly surprising given that they do not have a second row to speak of. This was suicidal against a pack as experienced as Leicester's, the same eight, incidentally, which beat Harlequins in the Cup final three years ago.

Challinor kicked his second penalty for Quins before Leicester finally turned their superiority into tries first with a pushover which was credited to Aadel Kardooni and then from a churning maul from which Darren Garforth detached himself to plunge over. Liley converted the first, missed the second and Leicester were safely into the semi-final.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, R Robinson, P Delaney, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, N Back, D Richards (capt).

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary, W Carling, P Mensah, S Bromley; P Challinor, R Kitchen; J Leonard (capt), S Mitchell, A Mullins, A Snow, M Watson, G Allison, R Jenkins, C Sheasby.

Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).