Planet Rugby

Tigers claw into play-offs

10th May 2008 16:58

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Tom Varndell Tigers

Tom Varndell on his way to score for Leicester

A late try from Tom Varndell saved Leicester's season as they scraped into the Guinness Premiership play-offs 31-28 against Harlequins at Welford Road on Saturday.

Sale's defeat at home to London Irish saw the Tigers clinch fourth spot and set up a semi-final clash with table-toppers Gloucester.

The Welford Road outfit had looked likely to spend the post-season watching from the sidelines and the one-time powerhouses of English rugby were even sweating on a place in next season's Heineken Cup.

Former star and assistant coach Richard Cockerill had said the Tigers needed a miracle to book their top-four place - and that is just about what happened.

But the pressure on head coach Marcelo Loffreda is sure to remain unless Leicester can continue to deft the odds at Kingsholm next weekend.

Tom Varndell's try with just two minutes remaining settled the game and also ended Harlequins' own play-off hopes.

The flying winger made a try out of nothing, chipping the ball past Quins full-back Mike Brown before putting on the afterburners and winning the chase to the ball from 40 metres out.

The result was harsh on Quins, who finish the season in sixth place. They had played their part in a nine-try contest full of passion, points and a wide open game littered with mistakes, bad goal-kicking and expansive rugby.

Quins made a dream start with Brown going over in just the third minute after Chris Malone's delicate grubber kick.

It seemed that Dean Richards' side would double their lead just three minutes later when Dave Strettle broke free from some weak Leicester tackling inside his own 22 and released skipper Will Skinner on a 60-metre burst.

But just as he crossed the line he was hauled down by a last-gasp Harry Ellis tackle, spilling the ball in the process.

Leicester got back in it as Ellis saw Ben Herring in space and the Kiwi wrong-footed Chris Brooker to go over.

Tigers took the lead seven minutes later when Andy Goode shipped the ball out to Varndell and he skipped past Brown - Goode duly converted.

More defensive lapses allowed Danny Care to break free on eighteen minutes and Quins' Will Skinner made no mistake this time after taking a pass and running in from 30 metres.

Skinner and Goode got involved in a fracas as tempers boiled over while Quins' Chris Robshaw was sin-binned.

Despite their numerical disadvantage Quins extended their lead on the stroke of half-time, Tom Williams diving over and Malone converting.

But the Tigers made the perfect start to the second half and pulled the deficit back as Herring's delightful flick pass allowed Johne Murphy to crash over.

Goode missed the conversion but Malone scuffed a penalty minutes later to keep things tight.

The visitors looked to have killed the game on 62 minutes with their fourth try.

Malone spotted Williams free on the left wing and he had time to let the ball bounce before picking up and out-running hooker Mefin Davies - Malone's conversion gave Quins a nine-point cushion.

But Leicester refused to lie down. Jordan Crane piled over to narrow the gap and Varndell's sizzling pace stole the game with two minutes remaining.

The scorers:

For Leicester:

Tries: Herring, Varndell 2, J Murphy, Crane

Con: Goode 3

For Harlequins:

Tries: Brown, Skinner, Williams 2

Con: Malone 4

Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tom Varndell, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Ben Herring, 6 Martin Corry (c), 5 Ben Kay, 4 Marco Wentzel, 3 Julian White, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Boris Stankovich.

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Richard Blaze, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Christophe Laussucq, 21 Sam Vesty, 22 Ayoola Erinle.

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 David Strettle, 12 Tosh Masson, 11 Simon Keogh, 10 Chris Malone, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Will Skinner(c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Robson,4 James Percival, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Chris Brooker, 1 Ceri Jones.

Replacements: 16 Aston Croall, 17 John Brook, 18 Jim Evans, 19 Tom Guest, 20 Steven So'oialo, 21 Adrian Jarvis, 22 De Wet Barry.

Referee: Wayne Barnes

Touch judges: Robin Goodliffe, Paul Dix

Assessor: Clive Leeke

Television match official: Brian Abrahams

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