Tigers on song for Europe as West says his goodbyes

Leicester 43 Harlequins 26
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The Independent Online

They began warbling in Istanbul last night at about the moment Harlequins' captain Andre Vos was dispatched to the sin-bin, and his team was splintered by three Leicester tries in his 10-minute absence. It set up an emphatic Tigers victory, a common sight in the former champions' current burst of form, though the labyrinthine rules of Heineken Cup qualification mean that both teams' Euro-vision remains in focus.

They began warbling in Istanbul last night at about the moment Harlequins' captain Andre Vos was dispatched to the sin-bin, and his team was splintered by three Leicester tries in his 10-minute absence. It set up an emphatic Tigers victory, a common sight in the former champions' current burst of form, though the labyrinthine rules of Heineken Cup qualification mean that both teams' Euro-vision remains in focus.

Leicester beat Harlequins back to back in March during their impressive Premiership run-in of eight matches unbeaten. The chances of Quins posting a retaliatory win in this Wildcard semi-final looked slim from the outset. The Tigers battered them up front for the opening five minutes and Andy Goode, the leading points scorer in the Premiership this season, potted a penalty for offside.

The tries were not long in coming. After 16 minutes George Harder steamrollered the home scrum-half Harry Ellis as Quins attempted to break out of a tight spot, but when the ball came back to Andy Dunne for a clearing kick, the fly-half was charged down by Leicester's No 10, Jaco van der Westhuyzen, who dived on the loose ball to score.

Van der Westhuyzen is off to Japan in the summer, possibly by way of a resumption of his Springbok Test career, and though he has been here less than a season he will be missed by Tigers fans for his part in rekindling their team's back play. 'Tis the season for farewells, and Jason Leonard was fêted by his hosts at the final whistle for his contribution to rugby and life in general. Another to receive a presentation marking his last appearance at Welford Road was Dorian West, the England hooker who has been here 16 years. Unlike his namesake Mr Gray he has no self-portrait hanging in the attic, and is bowing out aged 36.

Referee Steve Lander has been booed round this neck of the woods even longer than West has been cheered, yet earned the home crowd's applause for penalising Leonard at a scrum on 29 minutes, allowing Goode to make it 16-7 with his third penalty. It was a settling influence on Leicester, who had allowed Dunne to recover his poise with a nicely-finished try after a high kick.

Even more costly to Quins were the 19 points they shipped while Vos was off the field, his offence to halt illegally a Leicester counter-attack stemming from a hurried kick by Dunne. First Lander awarded a penalty try, as Quins stood up in the third in a series of scrums. Then, after the interval, Leicester mauled Neil Back over on one wing and set Geordan Murphy away to score on the other. Goode converted the latter try for 35-7.

It was the time to scrub a line through half the eight European scenarios helpfully printed in the programme - the ones which had Quins as winners of last night's match.

West entered proceedings just after Leicester's fifth try, a catch and run-in for Ellis in the 52nd minute when Scott Bemand fluffed a chip like a golfer stuck in a steep-sided bunker. Dunne's up-and-down evening continued when he cantered clear for a second try and his resilience suggested he will cope if, as expected, he is Quins' front line No 10 next season.

Before then, Quins would probably prefer Paul Burke fit from a groin injury to regain his place for Saturday's Parker Pen Challenge Cup final in Reading. Which, after noting a knockabout last few minutes during which Ugo Monye and Will Greenwood scored breakaway tries for Quins and Van der Westhuyzen dropped a goal, brings us back to the ifs, buts and maybes.

Suffice to say, if Quins beat Montferrand, Leicester will definitely contest the Wildcard final. And both the English sides in question could end up happy. "Cor blimey", as Leonard might say.

Leicester: A Goode; A Healey, L Lloyd, D Gibson (F Tuilagi, 71), G Murphy (O Smith, 48); J van der Westhuyzen, H Ellis (T Tierney, 71); D Morris (M Holford, 73), G Chuter (D West, 52), J White, M Johnson (capt; B Kay, 52), L Deacon, M Corry, W Johnson (A Balding, 73), N Back

Harlequins: G Duffy; G Harder (S Keogh, 57), W Greenwood, M Deane, U Monye; A Dunne (A Jarvis, 71), S Bemand (B Willis, 63); M Worsley (C Jones, 22-27, 55), T Fuga, J Leonard (L Gomez, 63), S Miall, J Evans (B Davison, 55), P Sanderson, T Diprose, A Vos (capt; L Sherriff, 63)

Referee: S Lander (Merseyside)

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