The Zurich Premiership wild-card play-off tournament – crazy name, crazy competition – has a Heineken Cup qualifying place as its one and only carrot, and that is not enough to put bums on seats in significant numbers. The Stoop Memorial Ground was not quite a desert last night, but it was not Oxford Street either. Maybe the lack of a big-match atmosphere left Leicester struggling for inspiration. There again, they did just enough to give themselves a better-than-even chance of progressing via Sunday's second leg at Welford Road.
All too frequently this season, Leicester have been unrecognisable from the snarling warrior tribe that brought the whole of rugby-playing Europe to its knees between the autumn of 2000 and the spring of 2002. Last night was a case in point, particularly during the first half. The Midlanders' performance was not devoid of effort – Louis Deacon, a strapping young Martin Johnson impersonator, clocked Will Greenwood with a nicely disguised right-hander early on and generally made a nuisance of himself – but there was a lack of collective purpose in more legitimate areas of the game.
Time and again, Martin Corry and Adam Balding found themselves isolated in the heavy traffic and, more often than not, stripped of the ball by a hungrier, more cohesive Quins pack.
While Leicester managed to open the scoring with a common or garden Tim Stimpson penalty, Quins had already laid down their marker. From the restart, Tony Diprose opened up space with a cute little sidestep and found Greenwood with a trademark lay-off that allowed the centre to gather without checking his stride. Greenwood's pass to Tani Fuga was every bit as we have come to expect, and the hooker slipped off his left foot to claim the opening try. When Mel Deane then cottoned on to a chip from Matthew Powell close to the left touch-line, Quins were 11 points up and set fair.
Penalties by Paul Burke either side of the interval extended the advantage and when he dropped a goal on 48 minutes to put his side 23-6 ahead, Leicester called for the old hard-heads – Dorian West, Darren Garforth and Johnson himself. Within seconds, there was a skirmish on the left of the field while Geordan Murphy left three defenders for dead and slid over the Quins line on the right. Corry, back from the sin-bin, then muscled over from a close-range scrum to narrow it further. They are not dead yet.
Harlequins: Tries Fuga, Deane; Conversions Burke 2; Penalties Burke 3; Drop goal Burke. Leicester: Tries Murphy, Corry; Conversions Stimpson 2; Penalties Stimpson 3.
Harlequins: N Williams; U Monye, W Greenwood, M Deane, D Luger; P Burke, M Powell (S Bemand, 78); J Leonard, T Fuga (J Hayter, 65), L Gomez (C Jones, 55), W Davison (K Rudzki, 55), S Miall (J Evans, h-t), R Winters (A Diprose, 69), A Vos (capt), A Diprose (P Sanderson, 63).
Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd, G Gelderbloom, F Tuilagi, G Murphy; C McMullen (S Vesty, 70), H Ellis; P Freshwater (G Rowntree, 60), G Chuter (D West, 52), R Nebbett (D Garforth, 52), L Deacon (M Johnson, 52), M Corry, P Short, J Kronfeld (capt, J Hamilton, 83), A Balding (W Skinner, 74).
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).Reuse content