Staunton's failings leave Quins looking to All Black Spencer

Leicester 32 - Harlequins 17
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The Independent Online

Harlequins, who have spent almost the entire season staring up at the other 11 clubs in the Premiership, are prepared to offer Carlos Spencer a salary of £180,000 to strut his stuff at the Stoop. Spencer was the All Blacks' playmaker in the last World Cup but under the new regime of Graham Henry he has dropped down the pecking order.

Harlequins, who have spent almost the entire season staring up at the other 11 clubs in the Premiership, are prepared to offer Carlos Spencer a salary of £180,000 to strut his stuff at the Stoop. Spencer was the All Blacks' playmaker in the last World Cup but under the new regime of Graham Henry he has dropped down the pecking order.

Should he move to London he may have to adjust his sights even lower. Quins remain at the bottom, a point behind Worcester and two behind Northampton, having won just three matches in five months. This defeat edged them closer to the trap door although there are a lot of people in the game who say the same thing: if Harlequins finish last they will not be relegated. Yet one up one down is written in stone and it will take an extraordinary development to defer the death penalty.

For Quins, in the process of developing their ground, perhaps it will not come to that. "If we win four of our remaining eight games we should be safe," Mark Evans, the chief executive said. "We are not a great side but we're not a bad one either."

Four wins in eight is a big if, and one thing is certain - Worcester will not go quietly. This defeat by two goals and six penalties to two goals and one penalty left Leicester 11 points clear at the top on 55, 35 points ahead of Quins although the gap between the two looked considerably smaller on Saturday.

The most obvious difference was that Andy Goode kicked eight goals out of eight. His opposite number, Jeremy Staunton, began impressively but then his kicking boots fell to pieces. Midway through the first half Quins, leading 17-9 having scored two tries, should have gone further ahead but Staunton missed three penalties.

Leicester enjoyed the Goode life but were nowhere near their best. John Wells, their coach, said his team had been disrupted by the withdrawal of the England flanker Lewis Moody, who has a hamstring strain, and of their captain Martin Johnson. On the morning of the match Johnson and Ben Kay rang Wells, the former to tell him he had a bad back, the latter that he was feeling sick. Wells would not agree to both locks withdrawing and the easier option was to force Kay into action.

"When our players turned up and found out that Martin wasn't playing a number of them had to step up and take a lead but because it was at such late notice they weren't in a position to do that," Wells said. "We lost a bit of direction." As for Moody, Wells said: "If England hold back on him in training he should be okay for the Wales game."

Quins got off to a flyer when Neil Back knocked on from the kick-off and then Kay mistimed his jump at a line-out, allowing the prop Jon Dawson to burrow over for a try. After 68 seconds they were 7-0 in front and at Welford Road all you could hear was the gnashing of teeth.

Goode imposed a reality check by banging over penalties but in the 20th minute the capacity crowd, who were expecting a massacre of the blue bloods, were again struck dumb when Nick Easter, at the back of a line-out, delivered an inside pass to Ugo Monye and the right-wing went through the midfield in a flash. The Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy was sent the wrong way by a brilliant swerve from Monye.

Murphy's response was to go through Quins like a shooting star and his run enabled Goode to punt to the right-hand corner. Waiting for it, in a rehearsed play, was Kay who had about a yard advantage in height over Simon Keogh and the England forward was able to find Austin Healey with a try-scoring pass.

Quins' lead was down to 19-17 at half-time and any prospect of a bonus point, which was the least they deserved, disappeared when Henry Tuilagi went over in the eighth minute of injury time.

Leicester: Tries Healey, H Tuilagi; Conversions Goode 2; Penalties Goode 6. Harlequins: Tries Dawson, Monye; Conversions Staunton 2; Penalty: Staunton.

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 Deane, U Monye; J Staunton, S So'oialo; C Jones, A Tiatia, J Dawson (M Worsley, 62), R Winters (S Miall, 62), S Maling, N Easter, T Diprose (capt), L Sherriff.

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).

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