Rugby Union: Back puts his backs in shade

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Harlequins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Leicester. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

FOR Harlequins, the art of self-preservation is saving their bodies beautiful for the Cup. They are certainly no more committed to the League this season than they have been in the past. But to their credit on this occasion, they never gave up trying against opposition manifestly superior in all departments. Even in the warm- up Harlequins looked second- class and when they kicked off short and Leicester swept to the other end and scored after two minutes, the only question was the margin of their victory.

That it was so far short of what it should have been was mainly due to Leicester's profligacy, looseness and, in the second half particularly, their indiscipline, although in Leicester's defence they did appear to be on the wrong end of some bewildering decisions by the Argentine referee, Efraim Sklar. Throughout a game in which, save for a 10-minute spell in the first half, Leicester bewildered their opponents and occasionally themselves by their tendency to over-ice the cake, the flow was constantly interrupted by his interventions. But that should not excuse some of Leicester's ill- tempered responses.

A series of slick and imaginative moves behind Leicester's dominant pack were too often ruined by over-elaboration when the simple option would have been the right one. Both Wayne Kilford and Stuart Potter were especially guilty in this respect, although Kilford did appear to receive an unfortunate ruling at the end of the first half when he appeared to squeeze in past Darren O'Leary's covering tackle but was adjudged to have put a foot in touch.

Had Leicester scored at that point then Harlequins might have abandoned all hope because their scrummage, despite the sabre-rattling of the opposing hookers, had been showing signs of seizing up and they were coming a poor second in the loose, where Neil Back was easily the most skilled passer on the field, putting his backs to shame.

Perhaps Leicester suffered from having it too easy too early. Their every move in the opening couple of minutes was touched with success: Jez Harris's perfectly flighted kick into the sun, Kilford's slicing break, and to top it off an irresistible maul from which Back scored. Harlequins' sole answer was the penalty, through which, courtesy of Senor Sklar, they were given ample opportunities to express themselves.

Kent Bray was particularly successful with his quickly taken penalties, and Gavin Thompson made ground from one before chipping ahead for Jason Keyter to score the Harlequins try. Challoner's conversion and his penalty four minutes into the second half remarkably brought Quins to within a score of their manifestly superior opponents, and with Challoner and Harris swapping penalties later in the half Leicester were denied the cushioning luxury of the score their superiority deserved.

Until, that is, they tightened the screws. Leicester won a line-out inside the Quins' 22 and with their forwards wedging in around Dean Richards they drove over the line for the try. It was not pretty but, unlike so many of their intricate plays, it was effective.

Harlequins: Try Keyter; Conversion Challoner; Penalties Challoner 2. Leicester: Tries Back, Potter, Richards; Conversions Harris 2; Penalties Harris 2.

Harlequins: K Bray; D O'Leary, J Keyter, G Thompson, C Madderson; P Challinor, C Luxton; S Brown, B Moore, A Mullins (capt), A Snow, P Thresher, M Russell, M Pepper, T Coker.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, S Potter, L Boyle, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Roundtree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, N Back, D Richards (capt).

Referee: E Sklar (Argentina).

(Photograph omitted)