George Ford, the IRB world young player of the year, had an eventful match for Leicester, concluding with possibly the shortest sin-bin stint of all time when his tug of a multi-coloured shirt conceded a penalty missed by his opposite number, Rory Clegg. Both clubs took the developmental nature of the Anglo-Welsh LV Cup to the nth degree but that did not stop a near-capacity crowd turning up. Sadly for most of them, Harlequins' handling let them down – epitomised by Tom Casson knocking on after Ford's indiscretion – and Leicester were deserved winners, scoring three tries to none.
There were 20 players away with the two England squads, plus a few rested. Leicester's director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, said the England fly-half Toby Flood would be fit for bench duty in next Saturday's final pool match at home to Newcastle. Manu Tuilagi is at least a further week away from returning.
"After that it's up to England what they do with Floody," said Cockerill."I expect it depends onhow they get on against Scotland."
He promised a stronger side against the Falcons as the Tigers look to win Pool Two; this cup, though the poor relation in a long season, sends its winners into the Heineken Cup. Also, a club staging a home semi-final keeps 100 per cent of the receipts: a six-figure sum.
Ford, the son of the former national defence coach Mike, played for England Under-16s at fly-half three days after his 15th birthday, alongside Owen Farrell. Now 18, this was his third competition in as many weeks. He played twice on loan for Leeds in the Championship before Leicester recalled him for a try-scoring appearance off the bench in the Heineken Cup against Aironi. Next in his diary is the U20 Six Nations and possibly more action for Leeds.
"We wanted the ball in Fordy's hands and to get it out wide," said Cockerill. His team were true to that, outdoing Quins' at their own fast-moving game, even while struggling a little in the scrum and a lot in the line-out.
Though Ford could be England's next big thing, he is not huge at 5ft 9in and just over 13st. His passing was accurate – nothing head-high or below the waist – allied to lively dabbling around the fringes, good line-kicking and a brave defensive tidy-up when Quins were swarming. Two goal kicks on the diagonal went wide in the third quarter, which might have had Leicester up 17-6 rather than just 12-6 when the left wing Alex Lewington outpaced Clegg with a chip-and-chase try in the 58th minute. In the fifth minute, Ford had kept the ball in play to launch a move featuring a break by Niall Morris and some badly misaligned Quins defence, allowing a 35-metre run-in for Andy Forsyth.
Ben Pienaar, the No 8, finished Leicester's third try at the corner, Ford converting, after 68 minutes. That was more bad news for Harlequins, still the Premiership leaders but chastened by the defeat at Connacht that knocked them out of the Heineken Cup. Their interest in the LV Cup was dependent on the Scarlets, the Pool Three leaders, falling short of a bonus-point win against London Irish last night.
Harlequins: R Chisholm; S Stegmann, B Urdapilleta (C Walker, 63), T Casson, T Williams; R Clegg, R Bolt (S Stuart, 51); M Lambert, R Buchanan, T Fairbrother (W Collier, 56), P Browne, C Matthews (T Vallejos, 65), L Wallace, T Guest (C York, 45), W Skinner (capt).
Leicester Tigers: N Morris; S Hamilton (M Smith, 56), D Mama, A Forsyth, A Lewington; G Ford, S Harrison (J Grindal, 63); B Stankovich, J Stevens, L Mulipola (J Harris, 63), C Green, G Kitchener, B Woods (capt), B Pienaar, T Armes (J Doyle, 56).
Referee: L Hodges (Wales)
Harlequins 9 Leicester Tigers 19
Pens: Clegg 3
Tries: Forsyth, Lewington, Pienaar
Cons: Ford 2