Mark Farmer | Chief Sports Reporter | 11 November 2023
Leicester’s miserable run to the start of the Premiership season has continued with a narrow four-point defeat at home to league leaders Harlequins despite a starting team bolstered with returning World Cup stars.
In a captivating nip and tuck match in which neither side could establish dominance, seven tries were scored in front of a 20,000-strong Mattioli Woods Welford Road crowd.
The defeat leaves Tigers sitting in an unenviable ninth in the Gallagher Premiership, just one place above the foot of the table.
Tigers’ defence was tested from the off as Harlequins went through the attacking phases early on following a lineout thrown over the top of the forwards and into the rapidly advancing Jack van Poortvliet, forcing Tigers to be penned back in their own 22.
‘Quins retained possession well and recycled the ball quickly before finding Tyrone Green on the right wing, who while avoiding being forced in to touch, offloaded the ball superbly infield behind his back to keep the attack alive.
It was a stage of play that would ultimately see Tigers fall behind as Harlequins’ captain Alex Dombrandt powered his way over the tryline for the opening score inside three minutes, however fly-half Marcus Smith, often deployed in an unfamiliar position of full-back by former Leicester head coach Steve Borthwick at the World Cup in France, could only find the outside of the post with his conversion attempt.
South African World Cup winner Handre Pollard would reduce the deficit and put Leicester on the scoreboard with a simple penalty goal just minutes later.
Italian-capped flanker Dino Lamb, man of the match today, would help himself to a couple of tries for Harlequins.
The first to extend the visitor’s first-half lead at the quarter of an hour mark before Hanro Liebenberg led from the front as the Tigers captain showed an excellent pair of hands to open the home side’s try scoring account in the corner of the in goal area.
England star Freddie Steward scored the first of his double just after half an hour of play, leisurely falling over the tryline with ball in hand completely unopposed after an attacking scrum in front of the posts saw the ball worked out to his wing.
Tyrone Green would deny Tigers a half-time lead however as the winger impressively collected a pass on Tigers’ 22-metre line and diving into the corner, evading a last ditch tackle in the process.
Steward doubled his tally for the afternoon just six minutes after the interval to re-establish Tigers’ lead before Pollard converted brilliantly from the touchline right through the middle of the posts.
Scrum-half Will Porter would also find himself among the away team’s tryscorers after picking the ball from the base of a ruck and throwing a dummy pass to create enough space for himself to pounce through Tigers’ defensive line.
Tigers again reclaimed the lead as Pollard slotted a penalty straight in front of the sticks from just outside the Harlequins 22-metre line.
It was a crucial score that put Leicester ahead by a single point, something the South African is accustomed to as the Springboks won all of their knockout stage matches including the final by the same margin at the World Cup, with less than 15 minutes to play.
However, it would be Warwickshire-born Lamb that would slaughter Tigers’ hopes this afternoon.
With just 10 minutes left to play, the five-cap Italian international produced the game-winning try to ensure Harlequins return to London taking a bonus point victory with them.
Full-time: Leicester Tigers 25-29 Harlequins (HT 15-17).
9 B Youngs
1 van Wyk
6 Liebenberg (C)
17 Cronin (van Wyk 53)
18 Hurd (Cole 53)
19 Carter (Henderson 72)
20 Ilione (Rogerson 62)
21 Whiteley (B Youngs 79)
23 Scott (Kata 61)
8 Dombrandt (C)
16 Walker (Riley 50)
17 Baxter (Marler 56)
18 Lewis (Collier 65)
20 Chisholm (Lamb 75)
21 Care (Porter 56)
22 J Evans