Tigers feed on Miller menace
Sunday 29 December 1996
When news of Dean Richards' belated withdrawal reached the Harlequins changing-room there was very probably that upsurge of morale associated with the loss of a champion forward and an irreplaceable talisman. Long before the end of this match, however, the Harlequins would have done anything to see the back of Richards' replacement, Eric Miller, whose unflagging energy and raw aggression had done more than anything else to break the opposition.
It was a tour de force by this hugely talented young forward and Richards would not have been human had his delight at Leicester's success not been tempered by some concern over his future in first-team rugby. Certainly, on the evidence of this match, it will be devilishly hard to leave Miller out of the side. Not only did he bring extra mobility to the Leicester pack but he brought additional width to their game and it was from his initial breach that Leicester scored a gem of a try by John Liley. Niall Malone and Rory Underwood were also involved but none of it would have been possible without the No 8.
It has taken a while in coming but at last we are beginning to see Bob Dwyer's influence. Gone was the slavish subservience to the front five and their blinkered obsession with the scrummage and the rolling maul. Instead we could admire the wondrous agility of Martin Johnson and his fellow tight forwards toughing it out in the close-quarter exchanges and then legging it enthusiastically across the field in eager pursuit of their backs who were revelling in the delivery of quick ball.
Austin Healey had the time of his life behind the scrum and particularly around the fringes, but it was his magnificent covering tackle on Will Carling at the beginning of the second half which was probably of greatest importance to his side. At that point Quins were 18-6 down having failed to make effective use of the bitter wind in the first half. If they were to have any hope of winning this match a quick score was essential. Laurent Cabannes broke, fed Carling and it required all of Healey's blistering pace to bring the centre down. A couple of minutes later Steve Pilgrim crossed Leicester's line but lost possession of the ball.
It was not Pilgrim's day. He had missed three penalties in the first half, none of which was particularly difficult and all of which would have kept Quins in the hunt. Quite why it was that Harlequins waited until the 33rd minute to replace Pilgrim by Paul Challinor, their normal first- choice kicker, was a mystery. But by the time Challinor had kicked Harlequins' second penalty it was too late to save the match. Leicester had taken the lead in the sixth minute with a scorching try by Underwood after Leon Lloyd, another promising youngster, had sent him on his way with a long pass. There followed 20 minutes of mediocrity from both sides highlighting deficiencies of the club game.
There were some fine individual touches spoilt in the main by woefully poor finishing but when, in the second quarter, Leicester got their collective act together there was no stopping them. Despite the Quins' massive investment in players and the enviable talent at their disposal, all their old failings returned. Long before the end they were a disjointed, dispirited bunch of individuals whose heads and whose defences were down. First Will Greenwood broke through Gary Connolly's weak tackle to score and two minutes later Underwood profited from panic in the Harlequins defence to grab his second. Two tries by the excellent Huw Harries could not conceal the fact that Harlequins for all their outward trappings of success have some way to go before they can finally shed the old image.
Harlequins: S Pilgrim; D O'Leary, G Connolly, W Carling, S Bromley; P Challinor, H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood, L Benezech, A Snow, G Llewellyn (I Pickup, 80), G Allison, B Davison, L Cabannes.
Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, L Lloyd, W Greenwood, R Underwood; N Malone, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole, J Wells (W Johnson, 45), E Miller, N Back.
Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).
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