Staunton kicks Tigers past Harlequins

Harlequins 9 Leicester 15
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The Independent Online

Jeremy Staunton is not a contender for the Harlequins hall of fame. When he was the No 10 for the club in a desperately tight season a few years ago, the Irishman was presented with a penalty in the last minute against Sale and it sailed inches wide. Quins were relegated and they subsequently introduced a new coach, Dean Richards, under whom they spent a season in National League One before returning to the Guinness Premiership.

Yesterday Staunton, who is by no means guaranteed a first-team place with the Tigers when their squad is at full strength, turned out to be Leicester's match-winner. In a game not so much of two halves as outside-halves, the Irishman kicked five penalties to Nick Evans's three. It was suffocating stuff and Staunton's reward was to be booed by the crowd. In the end, he silenced them.

It wasn't that there was a lack of outstanding individual talent on show – it was just that with two huge defences, there was less room to move than on the M25. Quins are determined to play an entertaining form of rugby but Leicester, particularly when they are on the road, know how to shut a game down. They were delighted to return to the Midlands with a victory that their coach, Richard Cockerill, said could be invaluable come the end of the season.

Nobody but nobody was talking about the summer's Bloodgate affair. In fact, the temperature was such that, with water carriers making frequent excursions on to the pitch, it felt more like Watergate.

Staunton is no Barry John but he kept his nerve to land the goals that mattered. Nobody really came within a sniff of the tryline, although the match, as stultifying as it was in general, was not without its moments.

In David Strettle and Ugo Monye, Quins have two of the most gifted runners in the game. Not that they saw much of the ball. When they did, something usually happened. With his first touch Strettle, with the outside of his boot, found a brilliant touch but the wing surpassed that a few minutes later when he deflected a poor pass with his foot, flicked the ball up, caught it and delivered an inside pass. Unfortunately, Will Skinner could not hold on to it.

That could have been an expensive error by the Quins captain, who in every other regard had an excellent match against his old club, but an even more glaring chance was missed early in the second half when the home side were finding themselves more and more hemmed in. After Staunton had kicked his second penalty to give Leicester a 6-3 lead, shortly after the restart, Quins launched what threatened to be a devastating counter- attack. The left wing, George Lowe – formerly of Esher – set off on a wonderful run and a cross-field move died 70 metres later when Jordan Crane killed the ball (90 per cent of possession was half-strangled). The No 8 received a yellow card. Compared to conceding a try, it was a light punishment.

Quins were not quite finished. Monye, who was playing at full-back, rather than in his customary position on the wing, shredded the Leicester defence with an electrifying burst but with the line beckoning, his inside pass to Lowe was juggled – and put to ground.

Evans had given Quins the lead with a good strike in the 10th minute, Staunton responding 10 minutes later, and both kickers had their lapses. After Evans kicked a couple of penalties in the final quarter to give his side a 9-6 lead, Leicester did what they invariably do in such situations. They drove down field and established a base camp and up stepped Staunton to land three successive penalties.

"Our job is not to entertain," said Cockerill. "It's to get points."

Harlequins: U Monye; D Strettle, T Masson, J Turner-Hall, G Lowe; N Evans, D Care (S So'oialo, 72); C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 53), M Lambert (J Andress, 53), L Stevenson (T Guest, 72), J Evans, C Robshaw, N Easter, W Skinner (capt).

Leicester: G Murphy (A Mauger, 42); S Hamilton, M Smith, A Allen, J Murphy; J Staunton, H Ellis; M Ayerza, G Chuter (M Davies, 42), M Castrogiovanni (J White, 17), R Blaze, L Deacon, T Croft, J Crane (B Deacon, 74), B Woods.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).