Harlequins keep semifinal hopes alive
MATCH REPORT: Danny Care and Semi Kunatani scored a try in each half to snap Harlequins’ five-game losing streak and boost their Premiership Rugby semi-final hopes with a tense 23-19 victory against Leicester Tigers.
The visitors led 12-10 at the break thanks to the accurate kicking of flyhalf George Ford, despite Danny Care’s early try for the hosts.
But Marcus Smith held his nerve with two key penalties in the second half before Kunatani powered through to secure Quins their first win since beating Bath Rugby in early March.
They move back into fourth place above Northampton Saints, who host Worcester Warriors on Saturday.
For the hosts, this marks a much-needed win. Quins’ semi-final hopes had gone from a near-certainty to dubious – and they started their final home game of the season like a side determined to prove a point.
Fullback Mike Brown and recalled centre Joe Marchant charged around the field, punching holes in the Tigers’ line, and that fast start proved fruitful when they scored the game’s first try.
Leicester had the first points through a Ford penalty but the hosts struck back when a kick the corner was followed by a Quins line-out and, after several phases of play, scrumhalf Care spied some space and darted over.
Leicester, fuelled by their own fight to stay in English Rugby’s top tier, responded with a George Ford penalty.
He and Smith exchanged further kicks, before Ford added another on the brink of half-time – with Quins’ Jack Clifford in the sin-bin – to move Leicester 12-10 ahead.
Quins appeared nervous at the start of the second half but Leicester grew visibly frustrated as the hosts dominated possession and territory.
Smith booted through a pair of penalties to regain Quins a slender four-point lead but they struggled to kill the game off – with Care inches from dotting down his second score, only to lose control at a vital moment.
But Kunatani finished in style as he picked the ball up 15 metres out, spotted a gap and charged through to dot down under the posts.
Mike Fitzgerald crossed late for Leicester but the result leaves them sweating on their Premiership Rugby status for at least another day.
Tries: Care, Kunatani
Cons: Smith, Lang
Pens: Smith 3
For Leicester Tigers:
Pens: Ford 4
Yellow card: Jack Clifford (Harlequins, 36)
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Gabriel Ibitoye, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Charlie Walker, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Chris Robshaw (co-captain), 6 Alex Dombrandt, 5 James Horwill (co-captain), 4 Mat Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Nic Auterac, 18 Will Collier, 19 Stan South, 20 Semi Kunatani, 21 Sam Hildago-Clyne, 22 James Lang, 23 Ross Chisholm.
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Will Spencer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Brendon O’Connor, 21 Ben White, 22 George Worth, 23 Jordan Olowofela.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys & JP Doyle.
TMO: Graham Hughes.