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Harlequins v Leicester Tigers - big match verdict by Martin Crowson


Yet again, these two sides lived up to billing of the best show in town.

This top-of-the-table clash between first and second in the Aviva Premiership was another game that was full of incident and talking points.

It ebbed and flowed one way and then the other. Yet, amidst all of the plaudits for the quality of action on show, Leicester lost their third straight game against the reigning champions.

Crucially, for Tigers, they now have to start finding a way of winning these games – and in a hurry.

There is every chance the two will meet again in post-season action.

Tigers cannot afford to be saying: "Could have, would have, should have" again.

As with most tight games between sides at the top of the pile, the odd moment of brilliance decides the contest.

That moment of brilliance came from Quins' scrum-half Danny Care.

Nine minutes into the second half and, with Leicester 18-12 up, the home side had started looking like they were running out of ideas on how to break down the visitors' defence, with just four Ben Botica kicks to their name.

Tigers were penalised 10 metres inside the Quins half. Care tapped and went in a flash as Leicester re-grouped and, by the time they realised what had happened, Care was wrong-footing Mat Tait to dive over the line.

It was a moment of wonderful opportunism at just the right time. Botica added the conversion and Quins led for the first time in the match at 19-18.

The try woke up a previously dormant sell-out crowd and they cheered and roared every decision that went Quins' way in the final half-an-hour.

Another Botica penalty on the hour made it 22-18 and, by now, Tigers had got completely on the wrong side of referee Wayne Barnes.

Barnes did himself no favours in trying to get on to the Tigers' fans Christmas card list.

In a tight game with little in it, Tigers lost the penalty count 15-6. One of the club's technical wizards also told me that the home side had only given away one penalty in defence all game. In 80 minutes of high-intensity rugby, that is a seriously good effort.

Barnes also asked the TMO not one, but three questions, to check he could award Adam Thompstone's superb try at the end of the first half.

As well as the usual: "Did he ground the ball okay?" He also asked if there has been an offside in the build up and if there been a knock-on several phases before the score. If he had asked whether Thompstone's shoe laces were properly tied up as he crossed the line, you wouldn't have been surprised.

Despite the penalty count being against them, Tigers hung in there late in the game.

The wonderful Graham Kitchener began stealing Quins' line-out ball with regularity and the visitors won a rare penalty on 70 minutes which Flood nailed to make the gap just a point at 22-21.

With seven minutes left, Care came offside at a scrum in front of his own posts and Barnes put his whistle to his mouth.

But the ball popped out and he waved 'play-on' instead of blowing for the penalty.

With two minutes left, Tigers were pinged in the scrum and Botica kicked his 20th point of the day to end proceedings and send Leicester home with just a losing bonus point.

Earlier on, in the first half, Tigers' defensive systems had worked wonders to chop down Quins' off-loading ambitions at source. Though they still gave away 12 points in penalties, Quins didn't look like scoring a try – while Tigers scored two of them.

Firstly, Flood's intercept try on five minutes gave them a stunning start, then Thompstone dotted down for his eighth of the season after a delicate grubber from Flood. At 18-12 going into half-time, Leicester looked well-placed – but things were to change.

Harlequins v Leicester Tigers - big match verdict by Martin Crowson

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