Rugby union: Lacroix's class edges Quins home

Leicester 12 Harlequins 13
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The Independent Online
Whatever politicians may feel, closer integration into Europe is now the favoured way forward for those teams just denied league honours in their own land. Accordingly, yesterday's clash brimmed with passion as Quins triumphed through a solitary try.

For every second of a nail-biting game there seemed nothing to separate two ambitious sides with an appetite to take on the best next season. In the dying minutes, Leicester threw everything at Quins to no avail.

In the end, the London side were better organised and had a little more imagination to exploit the few chances that came their way. Where Leicester had the forwards, Harlequins had the finest backs.

Whoever had said over the long seasons of Will Carling's career that he lacked the appetite for club rugby uttered a grave slander. Yesterday, the England centre demonstrated the shrewd eye for a gap that had made him a cut above even the best centres.

The Frenchman, Thierry Lacroix inside him, had a telling hand in Quins' only try, exploiting space before feeding the ball, via a neat scissors, to Daren O'Leary who slid over with the tackler on his wing.

Behind them all, Jim Staples was fearless and faultless in taking the man or the high ball. The problem, if there was one, for Quins, was the paucity of ball as Leicester's forwards continually cranked up their activity rate. Martin Johnson and Matt Poole, beside him in the second row, dominated the line-out; the props Darren Garforth and Graham Rowntree bristled in the loose.

But it was never likely to be quite enough for the Tigers to frighten and subdue a Quins pack founded on the likes of Jason Leonard, Laurent Benezech, Gareth Llewellyn or Laurent Cabannes.

Until the final whistle, relentless rampaging forward play by Leicester cheered a highly partisan crowd but never really threatened any damage to the organised Quins' defence.

Leicester put pressure on for much of the game but never produced a hint of a try. Instead, they relied on the boot, first of Joel Stransky who kicked a couple of penalties then of the fullback John Liley who kicked a couple more. Against this O'Leary scored his try, converted by Lacroix who also kicked a couple of penalties.

Bob Dwyer, Leicester's Australian coach, said he was interested in putting together sides performing the whole range of techniques and skills. "In my book," he said, "it's not just what you do but how you do it."

On yesterday's evidence, there is some way to go. Both these sides could play in Europe next year. It is not, however, likely to be easy for either. Memories of the thumping Brive gave the Tigers in this season's cup linger long. On yesterday's evidence, neither side looked good enough to strike fear into the best on the Continent.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney (A Healey, 45), C Joiner, S Potter, R Underwood; J Stransky (R Liley, 28), A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Poole, M Johnson, N Back, D Richards (capt), L Moody.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary (M Corcoran, 32), P Mensah, W Carling, S Bromley (J Keyter, 63); T Lacroix, C Wright; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, Gareth Llewellyn, L Gross, G Allison, L Cabannes, B Davison.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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