Goode keeps Quins down in the dumps

Harlequins 9 - Leicester 15
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The Independent Online

The good news for Harlequins is that next week they are spared the unforgiving pressure of the Premiership. The extremely bad news is that they have to travel to Ireland to face Munster in the opening round of the Heineken Cup.

The good news for Harlequins is that next week they are spared the unforgiving pressure of the Premiership. The extremely bad news is that they have to travel to Ireland to face Munster in the opening round of the Heineken Cup.

Just when they thought it could not get any worse they became embroiled yesterday in a match that barely had a redeeming feature. The difference between the sides was that Andy Goode kicked five penalties for Leicester, his opposite number, Jeremy Staunton, three. In the table, however, Leicester are top with 27 points, Quins bottom with four following seven successive defeats.

"It is vital we exhibit strong desire and mental toughness as we work to break out of a slump," Mark Evans, the Quins chief executive and head coach, had said beforehand. "Playing the team generally acknowledged to be the best in the country is an ideal opportunity from which to build upon. There is no hiding place, nor should there be, from the criticism that the team and myself have received in recent weeks."

If we thought the first half could have been consigned to the skip, we didn't realise the second half would be equally as bad, if not worse. Had the referee, David Pearson, performed like this against the home side at Welford Road he would have been mercilessly hounded out of Leicestershire.

The crowd is a bit more sedate at The Stoop, and apart from the odd moan and groan and concerted sigh of despair, he was given, comparatively speaking, an easy ride as he penalised Quins with a regularity that affected the entire tempo of the match.

Not that Quins were entirely blameless. Their scrum was under immense pressure from the outset and the malaise spread to their line-out. At least Quins, who never came within a mile of a try, had the excuse that they were by no means certain of winning possession even when they had the put-in at a scrum or the throw at a line-out.

Leicester had no such excuses. They would regard a win away from home, tries or no tries, as a thoroughly professional afternoon's work, and in some regards they would be right. However, if there is an iota of responsibility in the professional game for entertaining the public then they failed miserably. All in all, this was a shocker.

Goode, returning to the side after injury, spent 99 per cent of his time kicking the ball, 50 per cent of it somewhat aimlessly, and Staunton was not much better. Quins have two Lions at centre in Will Greenwood and Dafydd James, but you would never know it. Conditions were far from ideal, particularly when the pitch was saturated by a downpour just before half-time, but even so there was no explanation for the extraordinary number of mistakes, forced and unforced, and the almost complete lack of ambition.

The scene was set when Ben Kay and the impressive Simon Miall went at each other's throats. The upshot was a penalty for the Tigers which Goode kicked from the halfway line, Staunton replying in kind a few minutes later. The game was only nine minutes old when Tani Fuga was forced to stand up in a scrum and Goode kicked the resultant penalty.

If Leicester did have plans to inhabit a world outside Goode they were soon abandoned when Ollie Smith suffered a dislocated shoulder. Smith, a member of England's élite squad, will probably be out until Christmas. If Quins weren't penalised at the set-piece, they were punished for falling offside, and after Goode had struck an upright with a penalty he landed a third in the 23rd minute to open up a six-point gap. One thing Staunton was good at was the accuracy of his restart, and Fuga and George Harder capitalised on one to drive deep into the Leicester 22 where Kay blatantly killed the ball, and Staunton made it 9-6.

Harder looked as if he had enough bandages on his right leg to wrap a mummy but he remained one of the most effective runners on the field, once smashing through Seru Rabeni, but his opportunities were strictly limited. Even when Leicester lost Neil Back to the sin-bin for kicking the ball away, Quins failed to exploit their advantage. Although Staunton kicked the penalty resulting from Back's professional foul, Quins then lost a scrum on their own put-in against a seven-man pack and Goode's fourth penalty gave the Tigers a three-point lead at the break. As Martin Johnson kept up his usual verbal bombardment of the referee, Goode was presented with more opportunities to practise his goal-kicking, landing one out of four in the second half. At this rate they should think about providing bonus points for four penalties or more.

As for the Harlequins, they will have to think about changing their signature tune. Manfred Mann's old hit, "The Mighty Quinn", doesn't cut it any more.

Harlequins: G Duffy; G Harder, W Greenwood, D James, S Keogh; J Staunton, M Henjak; C Jones, T Fuga, M Fitz Gerald (M Lambert, 71), R Winters (K Rudzki, 57), S Miall, N Easter (A Tiatia, 59), T Diprose, A Vos (capt).

Leicester: G Murphy; S Vesty, O Smith (M Cornwell, 21), S Rabeni, J Holtby; A Goode, S Bemand (H Ellis, 57); D Morris (G Rowntree, 60), G Chuter, J White, M Johnson (capt), B Kay, M Corry, W Johnson, N Back.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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