LEICESTER TIGERS 16 – 23 HARLEQUINS
Leicester Tigers fell foul to their first home loss of the season after being convincingly dismantled by Aviva Premiership play-off rivals Harlequins.
Afflicted by numerous first-team injuries and international absentees, the depleted Tigers side was utterly dominated for much of the match, as Quins were eventually awarded for their constant pressure with a Nick Easter try just before half-time.
The visitors extended their lead further early in the second period thanks to a brilliant score from Matt Hopper, and although Leicester looked a lot better from then on, they could only salvage a losing bonus point after earning a late penalty try.
Off the back of the disappointing defeat last week away at London Wasps, the Tigers found themselves outside of the play-off positions for the first time in 11 months and sorely needed to bounce back from their recent run of lacklustre form in the Premiership.
However, Harlequins set the tone for the game early on, with the centre combination of Tim Molenaar and Matt Hopper linking well together in midfield, but ill-discipline at the scrum put an end to the Quins attack. It was to be the first of many.
Leicester opened the scoring after 10 minutes, with Owen Williams, standing in for usual fly-half Toby Flood, slotting a penalty from distance.
Quins continued to run the passage of the play, ultimately having more than 75% of first-half possession and 10 times the carries of their opponents, but their consistently poor scrummaging caused continuous set-backs, with half a dozen penalties being conceded at the scrum in the opening 20 minutes.
Williams scored another penalty soon after for the Tigers, showing confidence with his spot kicking in spite of the windy conditions, but aside from a couple of chip and chase manoeuvres, the home side rarely ventured into the away half.
Despite trailing for much of the first period, Harlequins were inarguably the better side, and they eventually got on the scoreboard with a simple penalty for Nick Evans, after Leicester flanker Julian Salvi was sin-binned for a cynical foul at the breakdown.
In the last play of the half, Harlequins finally took their chance having fallen short with so many of their previous opportunities – following sustained pressure from the Quins pack, captain Nick Easter, playing out of position at lock, drove over for a try under the posts. Nick Evans converted, and the visitors went in ahead at half-time, leading 10-6.
Boosted by their score just before the break, Harlequins were firing on all cylinders when they returned to the field. Just five minutes into the half, the ball was sent out left to Matt Hopper, who in an excellent solo effort broke one tackle before angling his run inside to perfection to touch down, again directly under the sticks. Nick Evans converted again, putting the visiting side 11 points ahead.
Leicester responded quickly with a third penalty from Owen Williams, at which point the Welford Road crowd finally found its voice, spurring the Tigers on to become a much greater physical presence in the game.
The hosts had their best chances created by Adam Thompstone, who looked a constant threat out on the left wing. On several occasions, the speedster gained major ground, including a promising cross-field kick that ended with Thompstone being bundled into touch just short of the left-hand corner.
Normal service resumed briefly, as Harlequins again travelled deep into the Leicester half, which eventually led to a straightforward penalty kick for Nick Evans.
The Tigers pressed the opposing defence continually, but time and time again, they were unable to find the necessary points, with inside centre Dan Bowden coming closest with his darting break in the Quins 22. Evans further extended Harlequins’ lead with yet another penalty, and the fixture was put out of sight for the hosts.
At this point, the Tigers could only seek a consolation score. With the pack doggedly pushing forward, Quins were forced to try and slow down David Mele’s delivery from the rucks.
After the visitors were penalised several times for killing the ball, referee Tim Wigglesworth awarded Leicester with a penalty try right at the death, and with Owen Williams’ conversion, they managed to rescue a losing point as the match finished 23-16 to Harlequins.
The result sees Leicester Tigers drop down to sixth in the table, providing the early warning signs that they must drastically up their game if they are to be in with a shot of retaining their Premiership title.