This, they say, is the stuff of champions. Two clubs, shorn of their unavailable internationals yet desperate to cling to top spot in the Aviva Premiership, produced a nail-biting contest dominated by the goal-kicking of Ben Botica – and he was not even meant to be playing.
Botica, who came in an hour before kick-off when Nick Evans withdrew with a damaged left ankle, landed 20 points, but he had to give best as man of the match to Danny Care. The scrum-half, so eager to recover the England starting shirt (from Leicester's Ben Youngs), scored a brilliant individual try 10 minutes after half-time which not only helped give his side the lead for the first time but inspired every one of his colleagues.
In Care and Youngs there are two British Lions in waiting, according to Conor O'Shea, the Harlequins director of rugby. "They can be the heartbeat of the [England] side for a long time," O'Shea said. "From Stuart Lancaster's point of view, he must be saying, 'How lucky am I?' That was world-class from Danny out there and that try was very, very special."
Leicester will look hard at the number of penalties conceded – 14 against six – not only those from which Botica scored but those awarded deep in Harlequins territory when they threatened to add to their two first-half tries. Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby, kept a tight lid on his emotions but acknowledged it was "an horrendously one-sided penalty count considering the closeness of the game".
Leicester had not lost in the league here since 2003, and when Toby Flood scored a 70-metre try after intercepting Nick Easter's pass in the seventh minute it seemed that good fortune would smile on them again. But Harlequins made their scrum creak, and the home side's methods at the breakdown, where Luke Wallace excelled, were judged by Wayne Barnes to be on the right side of the law.
Yet Leicester's defence absorbed everything that the direct running of Harlequins could throw at them. It came at a cost, Botica kicking four first-half penalties, but Flood added a conversion and two long-range penalties of his own before prodding through a grub-kick which Adam Thompstone touched down in the left-hand corner.
The shape of things to come, however, was seen when Sam Harrison darted deep into the Harlequins 22 just after the interval only for Leicester to be penalised 10 metres short. Whenever the visitors threatened, their discipline came under scrutiny, and it was from a penalty just inside the Leicester half that Care tapped and darted clear; Mathew Tait stood in his way but Care swerved one way, then the other to reach the line just ahead of the covering Flood.
Botica's conversion nudged Harlequins ahead, and his fifth penalty on the hour gave them a four-point cushion. Had Botica's wraparound run which laid on a scoring pass for Ugo Monye been allowed, there would have been no comeback, but obstruction by Matt Hooper gave Leicester one of only two penalty awards in the second half.
When Ollie Lindsay-Hague was penalised in a tackle, Flood's goal reduced the margin to one point, but Harlequins rubbed salt into the wounds with the construction of their final points: first Leicester were penalised at the line-out, then their scrum collapsed and Botica kicked his final goal for seven out of seven. The set-piece is Leicester's pride and they will want next weekend's visitors to Welford Road, Saracens, to pay.
Harlequins R Chisholm (O Lindsay-Hague, 52); T Williams, M Hopper, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; B Botica, D Care; M Lambert, J Gray (R Buchanan, 52), J Johnston, N Easter (capt), G Robson, M Fa'asavalu, T Guest (J Trayfoot, 61), L Wallace.
Leicester M Tait; S Hamilton, M Tuilagi, A Allen (M Smith, 58), A Thompstone; T Flood, S Harrison; M Ayerza, R Hawkins, L Mulipola, L Deacon (capt; E Slater, 24), G Kitchener, B Deacon (J Crane, 66), T Waldrom, J Salvi.
Referee W Barnes (London).
Pens: Botica 6
Tries: Flood, Thompstone
Pens: Flood 3
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