Harlequins 13 Leicester 42: Croft raids given rave review by Richards

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The Independent Online

A hat-trick of tries by Tom Varndell in Leicester's five-try trouncing of Harlequins, might not have done his England hopes any harm, but the player who caught the eye was another 22-year-old Tiger, Tom Croft.

The Leicester blindside earned the praise of Dean Richards, himself an old Tiger, and now director of rugby at Harlequins. While Richards was clearly annoyed at his side's performance, he was unstinting in his praise of Croft. "He is an outstanding talent. He has everything. Maybe he is lacking a little bit of experience, but they could throw him into the England team and it would not hurt them."

What did hurt Harlequins was the enforced absence of captain Nick Easter, who failed a fitness test on his injured knee. The sad thing for those home supporters in the 12,605 crowd the first sell-out of the season was how Quins fell away. "It is difficult to comprehend why we imploded at the start of the second half," said Richards, who denied the club is in crisis.

Fly-half Andy Goode's quick thinking earned Varndell the first of his tries after half an hour, the winger latching on to a delicate chip from close range.

A fine display of handling and support sent Croft in for his first in the 53rd minute, his second saw him take Goode's clever cross-kick and burst between De Wet Barry and Tani Fuga.

In between those scores Varndell ghosted through for his second, while his third came after he gathered the Harlequins restart from Croft's second try and ran in from 65 metres.

But if Varndell is to add to his three England caps he will have to prove he has more than just lethal finishing. He is the leading scorer in all competitions this season with 10 touchdowns, but there have been questions over his defence.

Dave Strettle scored Quins' solitary try, but whereas every Goode kick improved Leicester's field position or led to a score, Chris Malone, the Harlequin fly-half kicked away too much possession.

Harlequins: Try Strettle; Conversion Jarvis; Penalties Malone 2. Leicester: Tries Varndell 3, Croft 2; Conversions Goode 4 ; Penalties Goode 2; Drop goal G Murphy.

Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, De Wet Barry, J Turner-Hall, U Monye (S Keogh, ht); C Malone (A Jarvis, 59), A Gomarsall; C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 59), M Ross, O Kohn (J Percival, 59), J Evans (P Volley, 78), C Robshaw (T Guest, 59), W Skinner (capt), C Hala'ufia.

Leicester: G Murphy; T Varndell, O Smith (A Erinle, 75), A Mauger, J Murphy; A Goode, C Laussucq (B Youngs, 75); M Ayerza, B Kayser (G Chuter, 72), M Castrogiovanni (D Young, 50), L Deacon (J Hamilton, 64), B Kay, T Croft, L Moody (B Deacon, 67), M Corry (capt).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).