Quins turn to Cronje as search for win goes on

Harlequins 9 - Leicester 15
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The Independent Online

Geo Cronje, the South African who was at the centre of a race row last year, is understood to be the latest recruit for the beleaguered Harlequins. Mark Evans, chief executive and head coach, is expected to announce today that Cronje has agreed a two-year contract.

Geo Cronje, the South African who was at the centre of a race row last year, is understood to be the latest recruit for the beleaguered Harlequins. Mark Evans, chief executive and head coach, is expected to announce today that Cronje has agreed a two-year contract.

The controversial Cronje, regarded as one of the best lock forwards in South Africa, was omitted from the Springbok squad for the World Cup last year after apparently refusing to share a room with Quinton Davids at a notorious training camp.

Cronje denied the allegation and maintained that he was not a racist but the incident cast a shadow over South African rugby. The player was sent home and then left out of the party that travelled to Australia for the global showpiece even though he was officially cleared of racism by a disciplinary committee.

Cronje, an Afrikaaner from Pretoria who plays for the Bulls in the Super 12, will form an international second row at the Stoop with the All Black lock Simon Maling, who joins Quins next month. Maling, whose last Test appearance for New Zealand was against South Africa in the Tri-Nations in the summer, will only be in England for a season before playing in Japan.

Quins looked abroad after failing to entice Danny Grewcock to join from Bath and they see Cronje as their enforcer in a pack led by another former Springbok, Andre Vos.

The crisis for Quins deepened on Saturday when they maintained a 100-per-cent record - seven defeats from seven matches, which leaves them propping up the Premiership - and the belated activity in buying players suggests a serious lack of forward planning. Matt Henjak, the Australian scrum-half who has impressed in only two appearances, returns home in December to rejoin the ACT Brumbies.

Leicester's victory by five penalties from Andy Goode to three from Jeremy Staunton kept the Tigers at the top of the table. Any four-pointer on the road is invaluable and Leicester were at their meanest, smothering Quins by fair means or foul after a downpour restricted the options of both teams. The conditions alone, however, cannot be blamed for what was, essentially, a dire affair. Lewis Moody, the England flanker who is returning after a long absence, warmed up on the touchline but was surplus to requirements. He was well out of it.

Leicester lost their England centre Ollie Smith with a shoulder injury midway through the first half and he is unlikely to play a part in the autumn internationals. Another concern for the club is that they could lose the flanker Martin Corry and hooker George Chuter, who attends a disciplinary hearing tomorrow after being cited for stamping on Jonathan Humphreys, the Bath hooker, during the 16-16 draw at Welford Road last week.

It is almost of minor importance compared to the problems confronting Quins. Before the season started it was obvious they needed to strengthen the pack and find a pair of half-backs but more people left than were recruited. Their collision with the wall has been signposted for a long time.

Since last November they have won four matches out of 19 and their thrilling victory over Montferrand in the final of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup at the end of last season only papered over the cracks. It got them into the Heineken Cup - next week they meet Munster in Limerick - but Europe is the last thing on their mind.

Almost a third of the way through the league programme the only things that matter to Harlequins are Premiership survival and a win of any description.

Harlequins: Penalties Staunton 3. Leicester: Penalties Goode 5.

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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