NEC Harlequins will take just a three-point advantage with them to Welford Road when they meet Leicester Tigers in the second leg of the Zurich Wild Card semi-final (18th May 2003) following a 26-23 victory at the Stoop. It could have been better for the home side who led 17-3 at half-time and then 26-13 going into the last ten minutes.
It was the home side who looked the most dangerous in the early exchanges and could of opened the scoring after 13 minutes, though Paul Burke saw his penalty attempt drift to the right of the posts. It was Tim Stimpson who put the first points on the board five minutes later, converting a penalty after Mel Deane was penalised for a high tackle on Glenn Gelderbloom.
Quins hit back straight from the restart. Tony Diprose was the first to claim Burke's drop out and he off loaded to Will Greenwood. The England centre weaved his way deep into the Leicester twenty-two before giving Tani Fuga the try scoring pass. Burke converted and Quins led 7-3 as the game entered the second quarter.
Just six minutes later and Quins doubled their total. After Greenwood, Dan Luger and Simon Miall had helped to set-up play on the Leicester twenty-two, Matt Powell made a break down the blindside before chipping over the top of Stimpson. Deane gathered the kick and had the simple task of falling over the line from close range for Quins second try, which Burke converted close to the left hand touchline.
Burke extended the lead to 14-points nine minutes before the interval by kicking his first penalty of the night after the Tigers were penalised at a ruck, and some fine defence from Quins, following a dangerous break from Geordan Murphy, meant they went into half-time 17-3 in front.
Burke and Stimpson exchanged penalties in the opening three minutes of the second half to make the score 20-6, but a drop goal from the Quins fly half after 48 minutes kept the home side in complete control of the contest.
However, Leicester then started their fight back and the introduction of Martin Johnson, Darren Garforth and Dorian West from off the bench was soon followed by the visitors first try from Murphy. The Ireland international raced pass a challenge from Jason Leonard and then had the pace to beat Luger to the line. Stimpson added the two extra points on offer to cut the deficit to ten-points (23-13).
Burke then failed with two penalty attempts after 56 and 62 minutes respectively, but made amends with ten minutes left on the clock to extend Quins advantage to 13.
However, it was the visitors who finished the game the stronger of the two sides and with five minutes remaining, Martin Corry forced his way over from a five-metre scrum for the Tigers second try. Stimpson converted and then kicked a penalty two minutes into injury time to cut Quins lead to a slender three points.
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.