Fighting-fit Tigers rally boldly to put pressure on Quins
Harlequins 33 Leicester 43
For a club counting their injuries in double figures not so long ago, Leicester could handle with jovial equanimity the sight of their England flanker Tom Croft carried off with his neck in a brace. "He'll get the tackle right next time," said the club's director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, cock-a-hoop as he was at a stunning win in the penultimate regular-season match for the Premiership's top two teams.
Croft was said to have received a "stinger" injury that would be only temporary when he broke off the flank to tackle Nick Easter as the Harlequins No 8 attacked the short side of a scrum. Easter ducked into the tackle, head met head and Croft was left in a grimacing heap.
What delighted Cockerill was that at that stage – 27 minutes gone – Quins led 23-10 and Leicester had their mighty centre Manu Tuilagi in the sin bin. Neither fly-half was looking like missing from the tee – and indeed Nick Evans and Toby Flood would finish with a faultless seven and nine kicks respectively – and Quins' movement had been testing Leicester's post-tackle prowess to the limit. The early-season Tigers, beset by injuries and players away at the World Cup, would almost certainly have been beaten. Instead they rallied.
Flood railed at Croft for running a line that mucked up one move and allowed Ugo Monye to intercept and run 60m for the first of Quins' three tries. But Tigers scored four to extend their Premiership record run to six straight bonus-point wins, and their squad with its customary depth is fully fit and motoring towards a home semi-final and a possible eighth successive final.
Quins, still the league leaders but by only one point from Leicester and three from Saracens, ran out of puff – or perhaps there was a bit of bluff. Monye looked genuinely anguished as he was helped off with a hamstring injury but the substitutions of Easter and Evans preserved them for battles to come.
Anthony Allen's footwork and distribution showed up well in his head-to-head with Quins' Jordan TurnerHall, one of many mini-contests between England rivals. Allen, capped twice in 2006, missed almost three months of the current season after slicing through his thumb tendons in a DIY accident. A more regular injury cost him another six weeks. On form, his midfield combination with Flood and Tuilagi is the Premiership's most potent in attack, fuelled by a Leicester pack in which Thomas Waldrom – a double try-scorer here – and Julian Salvi are running riot.
"We had a shaky moment but we dug in and got out of it, and played some good stuff," said Allen, who had a short spell in Quins' academy while at Millfield School. "We regrouped behind the sticks [at 23-10 down] and went back to our basics. We started to get quick ball in the second half and that's hard to defend against when the lungs are blowing a bit. Having everyone fit is a massive positive in training. Everyone's putting pressure on each other."
Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, attended Leicester training last Tuesday and had some encouraging words for Allen and others. But whatever the selections for the summer tour to South Africa, the clubs' thoughts will be only of the Premiership final on 26 May. Quins visit Sale on 5 May, knowing a defeat could cost them the home semi-final that has appeared to be their right since September.
Scorers: Harlequins - Tries Monye, Easter, Lowe; Conversions Evans 3; Penalties Evans 4. Leicester - Tries Waldrom 2, Mafi, A Tuilagi; Conversions Flood 4; Penalties Flood 5.
Harlequins M Brown; U Monye (R Chisholm, 71), G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, S Smith; N Evans (R Clegg, 71), D Care; J Marler, R Buchanan, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson (T Vallejos, 67), M Fa'asavalu, C Robshaw (capt), N Easter (T Guest, 64).
Leicester G Murphy (capt); H Agulla, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 55), G Skivington, G Parling, T Croft (S Mafi, 27), J Salvi, T Waldrom.
Referee W Barnes (London).
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