A penalty from Paul Burke, from just inside his own half, right on the stroke of 80 minutes sent NEC Harlequins through to the semi-finals of the Powergen Cup thanks to a 22-20 victory over Leicester Tigers. This was another heroic performance from Quins, similar to their semi-final defeat of Leicester in the same competition 12 months ago. Leicester led 20-16 with just five minutes left to play and seemed destined to go through to the last four, as Quins were down to 14 men with man-of-the-match Nick Burrows in the sin bin. But Burke struck two penalties to give the home side another memorable victory, with his last ditch effort going over off the post.
Playing with the wind in the first half, Leicester opened the scoring after just two minutes of play. A spell of persistent pressure from the visitors ended with Quins being caught offside. Fly half Andy Goode kicked the resulting penalty and put Leicester three points in front. Five minutes later and Quins drew level. A break from Burrows took play into the Leicester twenty-two where the away side were penalised at the ruck in front of the posts. Burke converted the first of his five penalties in the match to make the score 3-3.
The rest of the first half proved to be a disappointing affair, with both sides making numerous errors and failing to create clear cut scoring opportunities. Goode had the chance to put Leicester back in front but missed two relatively simple penalty kicks at goal after 25 and 26 minutes respectively. They proved to be costly misses as Burke then put Quins in front with 30 minutes on the clock.
A break from scrum half Nick Duncombe, who had an impressive game throughout, took play into Leicester territory before finding Matt Moore, who was tackled on the twenty-two. The visitors were penalised for preventing release of the ball and Burke duly converted the penalty to put Quins ahead 6-3, which was the score at half-time.
For the second half, Leicester had Martin Johnson and Neil Back in the team after they started the match on the bench. With the half only three minutes old, Quins were down to 14 men as Tu Tamarua was sin binned for deliberately killing the ball. Seven minutes later and Leicester used their extra man advantage to score the opening try of the game.
Josh Kronfeld made a break into the Quins half, before Geordan Murphy and Freddie Tuilagi carried play up to the Quins line. With space created out on the right, winger Oliver Smith managed to beat the challenge of Will Greenwood and run in unopposed. Goode added the two extra points on offer and Leicester now led by 10-6.
Quins response was immediate as Greenwood intercepted possession and broke clear. Leon Lloyd managed to stop the England centre metres from the try line. Quins were desperate for quick ball but were denied the opportunity by illegal tactics from Leicester. Centre Rod Kafer was sent to the sin bin and Burke slotted the penalty to put Quins within a point.
As the game was about to enter the final quarter, Quins had the lead once again. From a five metre scrum, Tony Diprose picked-up and off loaded to Duncombe. He found Burke and despite a crunching tackle form Lloyd, the ball went to Burrows who burst through to score under the posts. Burke kicked the conversion and Quins had a six-point advantage, 16-10. The home side then exerted further pressure looking for another score. David Slemen attempted a drop goal but the ball sailed agonisingly wide.
With Kafer back on the field, Leicester went back into the Quins half. After retaining possession through various phases of play, Richard Cockeril found Kafer on the outside and he dived over to score in the left hand corner. Goode expertly converted from wide out to put Leicester 17-16 in front with ten minutes left to play. Five minutes later and Burrows was sin binned for a high tackle on Murphy. Goode converted the resulting penalty and Leicester had a four-point advantage.
Straight from the restart, Diprose took possession and Quins were awarded a penalty at the ruck. Burke kicked his fourth penalty of the afternoon to reduce Leicester's lead to just a single-point and set-up a nail-biting finale. As the game was about to enter injury time, Diprose kicked ahead and was tugged back by Back. Quins were awarded the penalty just inside their own half and Burke had no hesitation in opting for the kick at goal.
He struck the ball perfectly and, with the wind behind him, it certainly had the distance to clear the cross-bar. To add to the drama, the ball rebounded off the post before going over to give Quins the match winning score. The home side then held their nerve in the time that remained and the final whistle was greeted by one of the loudest cheers ever to be heard at the Stoop.
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.