Goode keeps Harlequins on the brink

Leicester 32 - Harlequins 17
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The Independent Online

Harlequins describe themselves as the most famous rugby club in the world. They seem to be heading for the most infamous demise. Yesterday they played their hearts out and once again had nothing to show for it as the team at the top declined to give the suckers at the bottom an even break.

Harlequins describe themselves as the most famous rugby club in the world. They seem to be heading for the most infamous demise. Yesterday they played their hearts out and once again had nothing to show for it as the team at the top declined to give the suckers at the bottom an even break.

In what is a big hunting county, there were a fair number of people here who scented blood and although they were not disappointed with the result, the prey were not nearly as weak or lame as had been anticipated. Having signed a Springbok lock, Geo Cronje, who did not make one appearance before a knee injury ended his career at the club, Quins are aiming for the stars while lying on the pavement. They are after an All Black stand-off and it could be Carlos Spencer, who has reportedly been offered a salary of £180,000, or Andrew Mehrtens.

The Premiership is committed to one-up-one-down, so unless the winners of National League One fail the criteria for entry, or the élite league is expanded, whoever finishes 12th will be relegated. The sceptics say they will believe it only when they see it. Why would Leeds splash out a fortune for Justin Marshall, the New Zealand scrum-half, unless they knew they would still be in the Premiership? Why would a player like Spencer join a club, for next season, who could finish bottom? The conspiracy theorists are having a convention.

Mark Evans, the Harlequins chief executive, thinks that if they can win four of their last eight games they will stay up. They deserved a bonus point here after holding the Tigers to two tries apiece. The difference was that Andy Goode scored 22 points and didn't miss a kick at goal, landing eight out of eight.

Leicester intended to play Lewis Moody in the back row but the England flanker broke down in training in mid-week with what is described as a mild hamstring strain. The Tigers, who were also without Martin Johnson, got the shock of their lives when they conceded a try after 68 seconds. From the kick-off Neil Back knocked on, Quins got a foothold and when Ben Kay jumped too early to George Chuter's throw at a line-out, Jon Dawson stole possession and burrowed over from close range.

The ground and most of its occupants remained gobsmacked for much of the half. Although Goode, kicking beautifully, kept Leicester moving on the scoreboard, nobody moved as quickly as Ugo Monye, the Quins right-wing.

Goode had just landed his third penalty when Welford Road was silenced again. Nick Easter fielded a long throw at a line-out on the Tigers' 10-metre line and in a move that had been rehearsed on the training field Monye came haring in off his wing, took Easter's short pass and cut clean through the Leicester midfield, rounding Geordan Murphy with a stunning swerve to score at the posts. A brilliant move, brilliantly executed.

Quins - you could have backed Leicester at odds of evens provided the London club had a 17-point lead - should have gone 11 points clear but Jeremy Staunton was nowhere near as accurate as his opposite number. Where Staunton failed with three penalty attempts, Goode proceeded to fill his boots, which was just as well because Leicester found the Quins defence in a bloody-minded mood.

Leicester led for the first time with their only try of the half, in the 33rd minute. It was created superbly by Murphy, who fielded a clearance kick deep in his own half and swiftly turned defence into attack with a dazzling run. When that was stopped Goode punted the ball to the right-hand corner where the England lock Kay was waiting, all arms and legs. Kay was able to take possession and although he was tackled, managed to tap the ball inside to Austin Healey and the wing went over for a try which Goode improved.

Very little went right for Quins in the second half, beginning with a yellow card for Easter, but even so they continued to get amongst the Tigers, who were restricted to a couple of penalties by Goode and a try in the 88th minute by the super-sub Henry Tuilagi.

"To win here you have to take all your chances and not make any errors," Evans said. "We didn't take all our chances and we weren't error-free and that's the difference. I thought we played some good stuff and we could have had a bonus point. I've got to remain positive."

Leicester: G Murphy; J Holtby, L Lloyd, O Smith, A Healey (D Gibson, 58); A Goode, H Ellis; G Rowntree (capt; J White, 58), G Chuter, D Morris, L Deacon, B Kay, W Johnson, B Deacon (H Tuilagi, 53), N Back.

Harlequins: G Duffy (T Williams, 62); S Keogh, D James, M Dean, U Monye; J Staunton, S So'oialo; C Jones, A Tiatia, J Dawson (M Dawson, 62), R Winters (S Miall, 62), S Maling, N Easter, T Diprose (capt), L Sherriff.

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).

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