Leicester able to smile again

Date published: October 11 2014

Leicester controlled the territory and weather better than Harlequins to end a three-match losing run with a 22-16 win at Welford Road.

Leicester controlled the territory and weather better than Harlequins to end a three-match losing run with a 22-16 win at Welford Road.

Jamie Gibson lead from the front, blocking multiple clearance kicks as Leicester’s dogged, pragmatic approach set them back on the road to victory in the driving rain.

No wonder Brad Thorn was licking his lips in these conditions. The kicking game of Freddie Burns and Owen Williams was simply better.

Neither team exactly entered this one in peak form. Leicester’s injury woes are now well documented, even generating a scathing defence of the Tigers methods from Richard Cockerill, but the casualties have coincided with three straight losses.

Harlequins meanwhile have won three of their first five games, not a terrible start, but the implosion at home to Saracens three weeks ago will take some time to shift from the mind.

There’s no doubting that the visitors handled the slippery conditions worse than Leicester, but concern over Joe Marler’s temperament as Quins captain is becoming a serious issue.

The Tigers gradually clawed their way under his skin. It took his side 67 minutes to breach the Leicester 22.

It’s hard to remember the last time Leicester seemed weak but they have felt prime for the taking in recent times; London Irish achieved only a second ever win at the ground in over 100 years the last time Leicester ran out at Welford Road.

Early on though the tone was different. Quins weren’t allowed to leave their half, a glimpse of Leicester’s trademark suffocation of the opposition shining through in the opening quarter.

You would tend to bet your house on Mike Brown under the high ball, but on more than one occasion he was caught out – the second instance nearly costing his side dearly had it not been for Matt Hopper’s outstanding try-saving tackle on Vereniki Goneva.

Blaine Scully’s try was a much simpler affair. Ben Youngs began a string of passes that put Jamie Gibson into enough space to draw the last man and put the American away, although the final pass was contentious at best.

Two penalties from Nick Evans kept Harlequins relatively in touch, but the loss of hooker Joe Gray to a knee injury was a further blow following Danny Care’s withdrawal earlier in the day to attend the birth of his son.

Owen Williams and Evans battled it out off the tee with both missing attempts, although the young Welshman’s efforts were nearly all from long range. A closer effort was successful to have Leicester 16-6 ahead at half-time.

The two kickers were at it again with penalties to kick off the second half, the onus on securing territory taking the thrill out of a clash that was growing increasingly nervy. Marcos Ayerza’s introduction brought easily the loudest cheer.

19-9 isn’t insurmountable but it felt like a huge ask for Harlequins with the weather worsening, Williams edging another attempt wide for his third miss.

Williams’ next strike though was good before Quins finally found some territory, gambling with a penalty into the corner.

It paid off handsomely, Karl Dickson going over with Evans’ conversion cutting the gap to six.

A penalty might have relieved the new pressure on Leicester but Williams again was wide, leaving Harlequins within a converted try.

Brown, uncharacteristically unreliable, put a clearance kick out on the full with three minutes left to give Leicester the position to go for the kill. Burns’ makeshift drop goal attempt was not the answer.

Harlequins’ losing bonus point in the end was almost fortunate, Evans aware of that as he booted the ball into touch with time up.

Leicester, far from perfect but victorious, will be delighted.

The scorers:

For Leicester:
Try: Scully
Con: Williams
Pens: Williams 5

For Harlequins:
Try: Dickson
Con: Evans
Pens: Evans 3

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (c), 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Sebastian de Chaves, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 David M