George Ford opposed the man who, according to Eddie Jones, will be shining his boots when the England squad join up for a training camp next month.
And it was the master, if George Ford can be called such a thing at such a tender age, who got the final word over the apprentice Marcus Smith as George Ford slotted a late penalty to give Leicester Tigers a narrow 31-28 victory in the shadow of Twickenham.
Harlequins fall short in thriller at The Stoop https://t.co/XFfzNGrNHr
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) September 23, 2017
It was a seesaw game which ebbed and flowed for much of the contest with the lead regularly changing hands. Telusa Veainu was the first to cross the whitewash in the only try of the first period before the game broke loose in the second 40.
Tries from the quick thinking Danny Care and then a breakaway finished off by Number 8 Mat Luamanu gave Quins a 21-11 lead. Leicester hit back however shortly after when Jonny May raced clear after Matt Toomua had sent him clear.
Replacement Greg Bateman then cut through a hole in the home side’s defence to crash over and put Tigers back into the ascendancy. Harlequins then peppered the Leicester line before Care sent Alofa Alofa for a try which gave them a three point cushion.
Six points though from the boot of George Ford in the game’s final 15 minutes gave the Tigers a second win on the bounce as they set about rejuvenating their campaign.
A Controversial Finish
Like any high profile contest, this one was not without its talking points. Harlequins committed a high number of penalties, especially in the first half but Marland Yarde appeared to be bundled down, somewhat illegally, when he looked set to race away.
Furthermore, several other penalties at pivotal moments had both sides raising their hands aloft in pursuit of an infringement they were sure had occurred.
Harlequins’ Director of Rugby John Kingston said: “A couple of things went for them. Big turning points, a couple of things right at the end made the difference.”
“I don’t want to get into the world of criticising referees, but that (Markand Yarde collision) was a massive massive decision. Was it a no arms tackle? You have a look and decide and I’ll have a look and decide.”
💬 “It wasn’t good enough, we got a point but we need to be better next week against Northampton”
📽 James Horwill post Leicester TIgers pic.twitter.com/gIGKiGMp4r
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) September 23, 2017
Kingston was also frustrated that an apparent deliberate knock on in the first half went unpunished without a yellow card but was quick to point out that Leicester could feel aggrieved with certain decisions going against them.
Battle of the 10s
Smith has started this season and been anointed as the next best thing, but today he was up against the man who wears the shirt he aims to one day put on: England’s number 10.
George Ford has had an indifferent start to life back at Leicester as he remains in search of the rhythm that had him winning the Premierships stand out individual two years ago. He will be encouraged though by kicking the winning points, even if they are kicks he would expect to make.
His Director of Rugby Matt O’Connor was keen to heap praise on the England fly-half who was watched by Eddie Jones in south London.
“I thought (George) Ford has been kicking and playing really well so that was never going to be an issue. I thought he managed the game at stages brilliantly and put in a massive defensive shift.
“He’s phenomenal (during training). The best student of the game I’ve ever worked with. His commitment to driving standards and making sure that he leaves no stone unturned in training is second to none.”
Lay of the Land
With hindsight, Harlequins may look back on their defeat to Leicester as a bit of a blessing. Had Quins won their third consecutive game, a feat they haven’t managed since 2013/14, talk of how far this side could go would gather further momentum. Kingston will no doubt welcome the praise, but balancing Harlequins’ physical development with their psychological development will be key in managing expectations.
Leicester on the other hand backed up last week’s win over Gloucester with this hard fought victory. It continues to rejuvenate a season that, albeit was slow to start, but never got anywhere near crisis levels.
They welcome champions Exeter to Welford Road next weekend in what has been a challenging start to the campaign. Win that contest though and suddenly the two early defeats will begin to feel like a distant memory.
George Ford and Matt Toomua showed signs they are beginning to click and if they do find themselves firmly in sync next week, then the Leicester recovery mission could be nearing completion.
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