Planet Rugby

Saint Nick draws it for Quins

27th December 2008 17:48

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Danny Care

Tickled Pink: Martin Corry closes in as Danny Care attempts to break

A record Guinness Premiership crowd of 50,000 was treated to a Christmas extravaganza between Harlequins and Leicester Tigers at Twickenham on Saturday, with Nick Evans snatching a 26-26 draw with a touchline conversion that denied the visitors at the death.

A fortnight ago, the New Zealander's successful drop-goal with the final kick of the game had sealed Harlequins a famous Heineken Cup victory over Stade Franšais.

Tonight, the All Black pivot sent Ugo Monye in for a last-minute try before adding the extras from the left-hand tramlines to complete a stunning Harlequins comeback.

With five minutes remaining the Londoners had been 10 points adrift.

But Leicester flank Lewis Moody was sin-binned as Quins mounted a late rally and Evans took full advantage to send the 50,000 crowd home in festive spirits.

Tries from Johne Murphy and Tom Croft had pushed Leicester 23-9 ahead but Toby Flood offered Quins a route back into the game with a series of mistakes.

Quins full-back Mike Brown ran through the fly-half to close the deficit and Evans then produced another nerveless finish to seal the draw.

It was a fitting finale in front of the biggest crowd to witness a single regular-season Premiership game.

Harlequins, wearing a one-off pink and white kit in aid of Cancer Research UK (with perhaps a cheeky nod to the vanquished Parisians), made a start suitable for the occasion and took the lead after just three minutes.

Leicester's half-backs Julien Dupuy and Flood both had kicks charged down on the edge of their own 22, forcing flanker Croft to dive over the top and gift Evans a chance to slot a simple early penalty.

Jordan Turner-Hall and Tom Williams exchanged passes to spark another Harlequins attack but when the move broke down in midfield, Leicester counter-attacked with gusto.

Flood toed the ball forward in midfield and Aaron Mauger took the ball on before feeding winger Murphy, who was brilliantly tackled into touch by Harlequins centre De Wet Barry.

Leicester kept the pressure on and after hooker Benjamin Kayser had been driven into touch just before he could ground the ball, Flood accepted a penalty shot to level the scores.

But the bright start petered out amid a raft of penalties as the constant whistling from referee Dave Pearson slowed the tempo and dimmed the spectacle.

Quins and Leicester both found themselves down to 14 men after Kayser and then Will Skinner were dispatched to the sin-bin in quick succession for offences at the ruck.

Evans slotted his third kick to open Quins a 9-3 lead before Flood, who had missed one difficult shot at goal, responded after Skinner's departure.

Brown beat two men as he launched a blistering attack from inside his own 22 but was caught in possession by Leicester winger Matt Smith when he should have fed Monye on the outside.

And Quins were left to rue that missed opportunity at the interval after Flood levelled the scores with a third penalty before Murphy profited from a Monye mistake to open up a 16-9 Leicester lead.

Monye went to ground as he tried to deal with Dupuy's bobbling kick but the ball bounced away off his knee and Murphy pounced, toeing it forward to score his fifth Premiership try of the season.

After Harlequins had failed to convert some early second-half pressure into points, Leicester struck again to open a 14-point advantage.

From loose lineout ball, Murphy attacked the blindside with a searing break before drawing Williams and feeding Croft with the scoring inside pass.

Harlequins responded in determined fashion and Flood was the Leicester villain. Nick Easter picked off a poor cross-kick from the England fly-half and when the ball was spun wide right, Williams almost reached the line with a slashing diagonal run off his wing.

Leicester were twice caught offside as Quins piled on the pressure and on the second occasion Danny Care took a quick tap penalty, Easter drove the ball on and Brown wriggled out of a weak tackle from Flood to score.

Flood then pushed a penalty shot wide before flinging a dreadful pass towards Jordan Crane, which allowed Quins to move back into the Tigers' 22.

Evans sliced through the Leicester defensive line but Tom Varndell, a half-time replacement, producing a vital tackle by halting Barry's run and preventing the former South Africa centre from offloading the ball.

Flood succeeded in pushing Leicester 10 points clear - but Evans responded in kind to tee up a dramatic last five minutes at HQ.

Moody was sin-binned after Care's break through the middle and Quins took full advantage.

Monye fended off Varndell's tackle to score in the corner and Evans provided the finishing touch.

The scorers:

For Harlequins:

Tries: Brown, Monye

Cons: Evans 2

Pens: Evans 4

For Leicester Tigers:

Tries: J Murphy, Croft

Cons: Flood 2

Pens: Flood 4

Yellow card(s): Kayser (Leicester Tigers) - off-side, 23; Skinner (Harlequins) - off-side, 30; Moody (Leicester Tigers) - killing the ball, 78.

The teams:

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 De Wet Barry, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Will Skinner (c), 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Robson, 4 James Percival, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Tani Fuga, 1 Ceri Jones.

Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Jim Evans, 19 Tom Guest, 20 Andy Gomarsall, 21 Chris Malone, 22 Seb Stegman.

Leicester Tigers: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Matt Smith, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Martin Corry (c), 3 Julian White, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Boris Stankovich,

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Martin Castrogiovanni, 18 Craig Newby, 19 Ben Herring, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Seru Rabeni, 22 Tom Varndell.

Referee: Dave Pearson

Touch judges: Ashley Rowden, Paul Dix

Assessor: Ed Morrison

Television match official: John Burtenshaw, Graham Hughes

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