Robshaw leads way and Quins roar past Tigers in title thriller
Harlequins 30 Leicester Tigers 23: Multicoloured men take their first Premiership crown after pulsating final
No one can outdo Leicester for consistency but this cracking final went deservedly to Harlequins, who took the Premiership trophy across the road to a cock-a-hoop Stoop. Inspired by Chris Robshaw and Nick Evans, winners of the player of the season titles awarded by the Premiership and the players in the past fortnight, Quins claimed their reward for perseverance through bad times and good.
Danny Care, the scrum-half who has had personal problems, had a belter, outshining his England rival Ben Youngs, although the Leicester No 9 very nearly inspired a turnaround when the Tigers scored 10 points in the final 15 minutes.
It was justifiable amid the garlanding of individuals to trace the deeper provenance of Harlequins' first title since leagues began. To Mark Evans, the ex-chief executive, and the ex-director of rugby Dean Richards, in establishing a strong infrastructure; on through the Bloodgate saga of 2009 that ushered in Conor O'Shea when the suspended Richards resigned. The coaches John Kingston, Collin Osborne and Tony Diprose survived that sad episode and were joined by Mark Mapletoft. Each of them was on the pitch in a joyous outpouring of emotion at the final whistle.
"Chris Robshaw epitomises what the club is about," said O'Shea of the England captain, whose work-rate in the sunshine would have made a blue-arsed fly look lazy. "He doesn't get ahead of himself, he's ultra-competitive, we'll have a good night and then we will be looking at how to improve."
Leicester's eighth final in succession brought a fifth defeat and although a yellow card to the No 8 Thomas Waldrom just before half-time was as tough in a different way as their graft in recovering from a terrible start during the World Cup last autumn, they applauded the victors.
"We coughed the ball up when we were inaccurate," said Richard Cockerill, their director of rugby. "Those little things kill you." He declined to place any emphasis on the need to play the 19-year-old George Ford at fly-half, with the England No 10 Toby Flood unfit even to take his advertised place on the bench.
After nine minutes Tom Williams, the wing recovered from his ham-actor's part in Bloodgate, scored the first try of two to each side, finishing from snapped passes by Care and Mike Brown after George Robson busted through with Nick Easter's inside ball. This and other passages of play showed Quins' hallmark: when you think a sequence of handling has reached its limit, they push it further.
Evans, had kicked Quins into a third-minute lead with a penalty but he missed his next shot and the conversion of Williams's try hit the post. Flood sat watching and nursing a tight groin, according to Cockerill. It was left to Ford to try to match Evans, the ex-All Black, for playmaking and goal-kicking. Manu Tuilagi at centre suffered too many midfield mix-ups: at least four forward passes were made of over-running or mistiming under pressure from Robshaw, Easter, Mo Fa'asavalu and Quins' powerful centres.
Ford landed two kicks from three, with another by Evans, for Quins to lead 11-6 after 27 minutes. There was all the ebb and flow you would expect from the league's top two clubs. Dan Cole and James Johnston had their moments in the scrum – or was the referee, Wayne Barnes, simply being even-handed? – and Leicester had some success off line-outs. In the unpredictable way of things, the Tigers had a life-giving try from a misplaced Quins line-out after a sliced kick to touch by Waldrom. The ball richocheted to Cole and the tighthead trundled and handed on to the leggy flanker Steve Mafi, who ran in from halfway. Ford's conversion had Leicester ahead but Waldrom fished at a ruck and saw yellow and Evans made it 14-13 to Quins at the break.
Two Evans penalties punished forwards' misdemeanours and after 56 minutes Care's half-break after a line-out had Leicester's defence staggered. Robshaw spied the gap and his try was converted by Evans, who added another penalty for 30-13. Tigers, to their credit, pushed hard against the almost shut door. Youngs tapped and ran to make a storming try for Anthony Allen, converted by Ford, who then punished a Quins scrum error with a penalty on 69 minutes.
But with Billy Twelvetrees on for Ford, all Leicester's strainings came to nothing. The substitute was bottled up in a last play and Quins uncorked the bubbly.
Harlequins M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans (R Clegg, 76), D Care; J Marler, J Gray, J Johnston, O Kohn, G Robson, M Fa'asavalu (T Guest, 72), N Easter, C Robshaw (capt).
Leicester G Murphy (capt); H Agulla (S Hamilton, 73), M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; G Ford (B Twelvetrees, 73), B Youngs; M Ayerza (L Mulipola, 73), G Chuter (T Youngs, 61), D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 54), G Skivington (G Kitchener, 73), G Parling, S Mafi, T Waldrom, J Salvi.
Referee W Barnes (London).
Tries: Williams, Robshaw
Pens: Evans 6
Tries: Mafi, Allen
Cons: Ford 2
Pens: Ford 3
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