Quins battle back to draw at Twickenham
December 27, 2008
Ugo Monye grabbed the vital late try for Quins at HQ
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Harlequins produced another great escape by fighting back to draw 26-26 with Leicester in front of 50,000 at Twickenham.
As the smoke cleared from the elaborate fireworks ringing the Twickenham roof, Nick Evans and Quins flew out of the traps. Two charged-down kicks against the Leicester half-backs allowed Evans to put his side ahead after England flanker Tom Croft went off his feet at the breakdown.
A moment later Jordan Turner-Hall broke around the Leicester defence before a breathless passage of play saw Aaron Mauger and Dan Hipkiss butcher a four-on-two overlap as Matt Smith was tackled into touch by De Wet Barry. After Quins' hooker Tani Fuga had put his side into trouble with a suicidal long-throw, Leicester levelled through Toby Flood after the Quins front-row buckled under pressure.
Evans added a second penalty minutes later, but as the game became increasingly fractious referee Dave Pearson was forced to take a moment with the skippers after eight penalties in 16 first-half minutes.
As Quins piled forward in attack, Leicester's Kiwi fullback Scott Hamilton looked to have sent his side down into the corner to score only for Evans to deny Johne Murphy before Hamilton sliced his second grubber into touch.
Soon after, referee Pearson sent Tigers hooker Benjamin Kayser to the bin after another infringement on the floor, only for Quins skipper Will Skinner to suffer the same fate minutes later in a harsh call.
A scything break from Quins fullback Mike Brown looked to have given his side the impetus to score, only for Tigers wing Matt Smith to pull off a wonderful cover tackle before the killer pass could be fed.
After Evans and Flood had traded further penalties to make the score 9-9, a horrendous mistake from Quins' England wing Ugo Monye following a kick through allowed an onrushing Johne Murphy to put the Tigers in 16-9 ahead at half-time.
It was the Tigers who kept their composure after the break, as Murphy again made good ground for the Tigers before releasing a pass to flanker Tom Croft at pace, and there was no catching the electric blindside. Evans sliced his restart as the occasion appeared to be getting to Quins.
It took some boisterous work from England No.8 Nick Easter to get Quins moving again, and despite butchering their first chance at the Tigers line, their patience paid off. A short ball from a ruck found Mike Brown a metre out and the Quins fullback had the strength to burrow over. Evans added a stunning touchline conversion to bring the home side back to within a score.
The game ebbed and flowed following some fiery exchanges between Brown and Leicester openside Lewis Moody, until a rush of blood from Easter as he barged a Leicester jumper in the line-out gave Flood an easy chance to open up a ten-point lead.
Evans drew Quins to within striking distance with another perfectly judged penalty, before a break from Danny Care allowed Quins a chance at glory. Moody was sin-binned after killing the ball, but Leicester stole the resulting line-out ball.
Quins were not to be denied, and anyone who expected the game to be over had clearly not seen their recent Stade Francais double-header, as Tom Williams split the Tigers defence before Ugo Monye atoned for his earlier error by crossing in the corner.
Evans was left with a touch-line conversion to square the game, and as ice coursed through the Kiwi's veins, he bisected the uprights.
Quins boss Dean Richards hailed his side's rellience. "This is a side which never gives up, a side with a huge amount of character. Teams are finding out that we are a difficult nut to crack," he said. "There is a resilience that wasn't there last year or the year before."
With Evans rescuing Quins once again after his heroics against Stade Francais, the final conversion had a note of inevitability about it. "I have always rated Evans as an unbelievable player," said Tigers coach Heyneke Meyer. "I thought he would get the kick because we didn't deserve to win the game and he is a quality player who is good under pressure."
Quins chief executive Mark Evans has stated the club's desire to turn the "Big Game" into an annual event. Given their success at selling 50,000 tickets for this year's event, Quins are looking to expand.
"We were capped at 50,000 which meant we sold out a week in advance," said Evans. "I wonder how many we would have got. We didn't have a walk-up and we didn't have last-week sales, which are usually in five figures.
"We have a three-year deal with the RFU. Big Game II will happen, Big Game III will happen and hopefully by then we will establish it as the big London Christmas sporting event. Let's hope next year we can have a real go at 'Big Game II' and maybe fill Twickenham. I really think we can.
"It is about an event, about building a fan-base not just about maximising monetary return," said Evans. "Rugby is a small sport in this country and we have got to sell it. People don't turn up to sports clubs on a whim, it is because they have got a connection. If we get 82,000 next year and the profit margin increases, we will just spend it, have more fireworks."
Harlequins: Brown; T Williams, Tiesi, Turner-Hall, Monye; N Evans, Care; Jones, Fuga, Ross, Percival, Robson, Robshaw, Skinner, Easter.
Replacements: Brooker for Fuga (50), J Evans for Percival (66), Guest for Robshaw (72). Not Used: Lambert, Gomarsall, Barry, Malone.
Sin Bin: Skinner (30).
Leicester: Hamilton; J Murphy, Hipkiss, Mauger, Smith; Flood, Dupuy; Stankovich, Kayser, White, Corry, Wentzel, Croft, Moody, Crane.
Replacements: Varndell for Hamilton (43), Chuter for Kayser (60), Castrogiovanni for White (37), Newby for Crane (67). Not Used: Herring, B Youngs, Rabeni.
Sin Bin: Kayser (23), Moody (77).
Ref: Dave Pearson (Newcastle).