NEC Harlequins U21 Vs Leicester Tigers U21
Aldershot, 2.30pm, 15 November 2003
NEC Harlequins U21 continued their successful start to the season by recording their eighth win of the campaign. However, it seems safe to say that the Quins players will view Saturday's victory as the sweetest. The young Harlequins have never beaten the current U21 champions at this level before and have responded well from the defeat suffered at the hands of the Tigers just a couple of months prior.
Quins showed their intent in the opening exchanges, when Leicester were forced into conceding a penalty in front of their posts following Quins pressure which was easily slotted by outside half Adrian Jarvis.
This unfortunately had the unwelcoming effect of relaxing the Quins players, to the extent that when a penalty was awarded to Leicester, just inside their own half, the Quins players let their concentration slip allowing the Leicester outside half to put a well executed chip over the Quins defensive line, which he then re-gathered, touched down and converted instantly putting Leicester in the driving seat.
The following ten minutes were scrappy, with both packs battling for possession and territory with maximum effort. Which in turn led to things heating over, meaning Quins fullback Tom Williams got bopped in the nose and had to go to the blood bin after finding himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of a ruck. It was the Quins forwards who seemingly had the edge when powerful running with ball in hand took Quins deep into Leicester territory. A cheeky 'Gregan-esque' reverse flick pass by scrum half Max Evans to No. 8 Tom Guest allowed him to power his way over for the try despite the efforts of several Leicester forwards, although, unfortunately, in the process he triggered a recurring hamstring strain meaning he had to go off after just 27 minutes. The resulting conversion by Jarvis put Quins into a 10-7 lead.
That was to be the end of the scoring for the half, although crucial mistakes at vital moments were the only things preventing Quins from adding to their deserving lead. Despite the disability of having a malfunctioning lineout, although understandably given, the absence of several key front five players, Quins kept the pressure on with the Quins proving to have the upper hand over their counterparts. Evidence of this came just five minutes after the interval when Jarvis sliced through the Leicester midfield before passing to centre Andy Reay who put a perfectly timed grubber through for fullback Williams to run on to and score.
A combination of Quins' disadvantaged lineout and a referee with a considerable lack knowledge of the rules of that particular facet of the play, meant that Leicester could bring the scores back up to 17-12 following a driving lineout try.
The referee's mischief was not over yet. He then sin binned Quins prop Reg de Jaeger for taking a man off the ball and penalised Harlequins second row Alex Ayling for making a legitimate tackle on his opposite man in the lineout. This meant that Quins according to the Referee had no means of legally stopping a driving lineout and so Leicester scored again in similar fashion. I hasten to add however, that Leicester's execution of this particular aspect of play was of top class, remarkably similar to that of their senior XV. A less than impressive day with the boot for the Leicester outside half was the only thing that was preventing them from taking the lead, as the sides were now tied at 17 all with just a quarter of an hour remaining.
With two driving lineout tries to their credit the Leicester pack were now becoming the dominant force in the game, and enabled the tigers to enjoy good possession in good positions. This culminated in a score for the Leicester no.8 following a quick tap free kick from their hooker, which caught Quins off guard.
Although, the Leicester forwards were starting to impose themselves, all the best backs were playing in quartered shirts. None more so than fullback Williams who once again broke through the Leicester line, this time feeding wing Henry Barratt who showed good speed to finish off the movement. A crucial penalty on 33 minutes by Jarvis too the score to 27-22 to Quins. The confidence of Jarvis with regards his kicking, could not have been higher as he was seemingly slotting attempts at every opportunity. This was perhaps the reason for attempting a penalty from the halfway line, at which point injured Quins number eight Tom Guest said, " Hopefully Jarvo's practice will have paid off ". The kick unfortunately just dropped short which would mean a tense last few minutes to the game.
Leicester, to their credit gave it everything to grab that vital match winning score. It took stern defence from the young Harlequins to keep them out, notably that of wing Barratt. However it was open side flanker Chris Cracknell who was to steal show who on the 41st minute, when he put in a 'Boom! Boom! sit down in your room!' hit to win a penalty and keep the Tigers out. The following kick sailed into touch and the referee in his most productive act of the day blew the final whistle, to the considerable delight to players and management (not those from Leicester, surprisingly).
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.