Leicester vs Harlequins match report: Tigers pick up much needed win

Leicester 22 Harlequins 16

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The Independent Online

Leicester will be feeling just a little less neurotic about life after squeezing out the victory they so desperately needed in the face of so many recent indignities. Heaven knows, they did not make it easy for themselves: they missed gilt-edged chances to add to Blaine Scully’s first-half try and when Karl Dickson dummied his way over from a goal-line siege to drag Quins back into it late on, there was a deep sense of nervousness the length and breadth of Welford Road. Yet all things considered, the Midlanders were good value for their win.

After the near-death experiences of the previous three weeks – a terrible hiding at Bath, followed by miserable home loss to London Irish and a joyless visit to Gloucester – the Tigers seemed fully alive from the get-go in front of a 21,000-strong Friday night crowd. None more so than the flankers Julian Salvi and Jamie Gibson, who, in their contrasting fashions, gave Harlequins all the trouble they could handle in the early exchanges. Indeed, Gibson continued to dish it out for the duration in an outstanding display of high-octane scavenging.

It was Salvi’s hot pursuit of the visiting outside-half Nick Evans that bore immediate fruit – the former All Black looked just a little rattled by the nature of the welcome he received – and when Gibson took full advantage of some smart handling from Mathew Tait and Manu Tuilagi to give the American wing Scully a home run down the right as early as the fourth minute, Leicester were nicely ahead of the game.

Quins were hardly in the pink after below-par performances against Saracens and Exeter, and they must have feared the worst. The spine of their side was barely intact: Danny Care, the England scrum-half, made a late application for paternity leave after becoming a father earlier in the day, while the hooker Joe Gray failed to reach the end of the first quarter after suffering a leg injury. What was more, they had to contend with Tait operating at something approaching his compelling best.

Earlier in the week, it had seemed a neck injury would incapacitate him for some considerable time. Yet here he was, plucking high balls from the air as though they were plums on a low-hanging tree, cutting dangerous lines in midfield and using his boot to excellent effect. Down at the other end, his opposite number Mike Brown was having a rougher time of it. A newcomer to rugby would have been forgiven for assuming that Tait was the England full-back and Brown the man with something to prove, rather than the other way round.

There was also a useful goal-kicking performance from the Leicester centre Owen Williams, handed the marksmanship duties ahead of the occasional England stand-off Freddie Burns and justifying the decision with some startling long-range strikes. Quins had their own shots at the sticks and Evans was far more accurate than he had been at the start of the campaign, but every time they notched three points, they found an immediate way of presenting Williams with an opportunity to reply in kind.

Amid the ping-pong, it was the Midlanders who threatened to increase the try count. Vereniki Goneva would certainly have made it across the line but for a remarkable last-ditch tackle from the Quins centre Matt Hopper, who made light of the fact that he was constructed on an infinitely smaller scale than the big Fijian, and if Williams had not butchered a scoring pass off the left hand early in the second half, the home side would have wrapped things up there and then.  Still, the Welshman made up for it with the boot, ending with a 17-point haul.

Scorers: Leicester – Try: Scully. Conversion: Williams. Penalties: Williams 5. Harlequins – Try: Dickson. Conversion: Evans. Penalties: Evans 3.   

Leicester: M Tait; B Scully, M Tuilagi, O Williams, V Goneva; F Burns, B Youngs (capt, D Mele 71); M Rizzo (M Ayerza 46), L Ghiraldini, F Balmain, B Thorn, G Kitchener, J Gibson, J Salvi, J Crane.

Harlequins: M Brown; M Yarde, M Hopper, T Casson, A Tikoirotuma; N Evans, K Dickson; J Marler (capt), J Gray  (D Ward 17), W Collier (K Sinckler 66), C Matthews, G Robson, L Wallace, C Robshaw, N Easter.

Referee: T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).