Having watched two decent games of rugby league during the afternoon I headed across London to Twickenham for another visit to the Stoop. The Good Friday match between Quins and Tigers was in its own way a cup final with a home semi final possible for Leicester and a fourth place on the cards for the home team. The choice of date was controversial for those looking at the meaning of the day but not for the near sell out crowd of 14800. Personally? What a great way to spend a bank holiday Friday evening. The referee for the game was Richard Wigglesworth a man who’d had a very controversial game the previous weekend; he was bound to be in for a lot of stick from the crowd!
Tigers had the perfect start as a Quins player in an offside position picked the ball up after it had been knocked on from the start; an easy 3 points for Toby Flood. The TMO was called on early on as Nick Easter and Blaine Scully competed for the same ball in the air; unlike the Jared Payne/Alex Goode ‘incident’ both men left their feet to challenge for the ball; so a penalty to Quins as Easter had taken the ball, but no card. The 14800 crowd were in the majority hoping for a Quins win but it was to be Tigers who added to their lead as Niki Goneva surged towards the line after Ed Slater made the break; he passed to Jordan Crane who slipped the pass to Goneva. The final pass was very flat and had the look of a forward pass; the TMO had a good look but the try was given. It was clear from the reaction of the crowd that they flet they had a better view than the TMO; it never ceases to amuse and amaze me that fans have a better view from a long way away than the officials!
A 10 nil lead for the visitors wasn’t part of the plan for Quins and they closed the gap back with a Nick Evans penalty. A number of games I’ve been to this season have seen me type ‘and the ball was knocked on’ a number of times, and this was to be no exception as we had an error strewn spell. Quins had a good attack when they released the ball from the scrum in spite of Ben Youngs tackling Nick Easter, the ball came out to Sam Smith who made a great pass to Mike Brown; Brown kicked on and Goneva got a hand to the ball in what at first appeared to be a deliberate knock on; the ball in fact went backwards so no card or penalty. I’m now going to be a crowd official; the ref seemed to make a highly dubious decision as Quins were in a very strong position, awarding a penalty to Tigers in spite of the fact that Anthony Allen flew into the ruck from the side and tackled Danny Care without the ball! I was indeed miles away and the ref right there, but, still! The next scoring opportunity came Tigers way as the ref awarded a penalty for offside virtually in front of the posts; my fellow ‘watchers’ and I hadn’t remembered the play going that far over, but an easy 3 points it was for the returning Flood. I’ve mentioned some of the people I sit amongst at Saracens and I have to say I sat behind (I’m so glad I wasn’t in front of) a Quins fan who kept leaping out of his seat at every perceived difficulty or dubious play, he seemed to want a yellow card brandished on a regular basis! I found it amusing on a once off basis but goodness I think it might drive me crazy if I had to witness it regularly!
Quins were awarded a penalty duly converted by Evans to keep the gap at 7 points. An incident happened close to the Quins line that I was seemingly the only one to see as Nick Evans was choke tackled on the floor and pulled right back, a horribly dangerous piece of play to me! Tigers play was error strewn in a spell that saw several penalties awarded against them; Danny Care took a quick one as is his want and Nick Evans kicked a very neat ball for Luke Wallace to run on to. From a distance it looked like a try, but, the hugely strong Manu Tuilagi had got himself under the ball, so, help up. We had several attempts at a legal scrum with the final one resulting in a penalty try being awarded, a tad annoying for Nick Easter who scored just after the whistle was blown! It really does seem that rather than being a method of restarting the game scrums are becoming penalty and penalty try vehicles more and more! The teams went in at half time with the scores even at 13 apiece, a very good comeback by the home team.
The 2nd half started with…… a knock on by Tigers! It did seem that the team who made the fewest errors would win the game. An early Tigers lineout was thrown long straight to a Quin, they then drove well from another lineout but knocked the ball on. Mike Brown who must surely be a contender for Premiership player of the year looked to have scored in the corner after Danny Care kicked through and Blaine Scully fumbled the ball, Brown pounced but the TMO adjudged that Scully redeemed himself by getting his hand on the ball first. Quins did add 3 points with a great Evans kick as they were awarded a penalty from another scrum. We had been graced with a small session of handbags as Flood and Brown fell out, but it all amounted to nothing. The next incident however resulted in 2 yellow cards; Pablo Matera tip tackled Dave Ward, a clear yellow, but George Robson stupidly felt the need to retaliate and was similarly sent from the pitch. I have to say the claps and cheers for him, even though he is an immense player, were misguided for me, his actions lost his team their advantage.
Tigers had taken back the advantage with a Jamie Gibson try in the corner after several penalties were awarded against Quins; the second saw the Quins defence in a state of disarray as Julian Salvi took a quick tap. There were a fair few boos as Flood stepped up to kick but all went quiet I’m pleased to say as he kicked the ball to add the extras. Nick Evans left the pitch and Ben Botica came on in his place. Mike Brown was to get his name on the scorecard with a strong try in the corner after Care had passed to Botica who threw a huge pass to Brown; he had Sam Smith on his outside but backed himself to score. Botica missed the conversion but Quins were ahead 21 to 20. Botica was to have the last say with a great conversion to take the score to Harlequins 24 Leicester 20. A deserved win for the home team, and as a frequent visitor to the Stoop this season I have to say the crowd played their part too, the atmosphere was great! So with 2 games remaining a place in the top 4 is still up for grabs for both of these teams. It’s going to be a very interesting final few weeks!