Reffell’s dominant display helps Leicester overpower Harlequins
This might be called this the counterbalance to all that attacking abandon lighting up the Premiership, a reminder that grit and graft can be every bit as effective and that perhaps there can be too much of a good thing. In that sense this was a masterclass by Leicester, founded on the overbearing defence that delivered them the Premiership title last season with Tommy Reffell the star turn.
He was outstanding at openside flanker, scoring two tries and disrupting Harlequins at the breakdown to the extent that the home side just could not find any rhythm. Julián Montoya maintained his impressive try-scoring record and Anthony Watson added his first for the Tigers to round off a good day’s work for them.
Do not be fooled by two late scores for Harlequins. For all that Cadan Murley’s second of the afternoon and Danny Care’s last-gasp effort sent the home fans home with something to remember, the game was up by then. Leicester had done a number on Harlequins, playing the game at their own measured pace and steadily building to victory.
Eddie Jones was in attendance and, if he appeared to be battling heavy eyelids when appearing on the big screen midway through the second half, he would no doubt have approved of Leicester’s performance. Try-fests are all well and good but, if defence becomes optional in the Premiership, it will not augur well for the national side.
Moreover, it is a significant victory for Leicester, who had lost their previous two matches, in disappointing fashion against Saracens and Sale, and who will not play again in the Premiership until 11 November if the fixture with Wasps next Sunday is called off. “We don’t know what the next few weeks will hold for us,” the Leicester head coach, Steve Borthwick, said.
For Harlequins there remains the sense that they are yet to find their spark this season. They have dazzled in glimpses but here they struggled throughout to prise open the Leicester defence despite finishing with more territory and more possession. They welcomed back André Esterhuizen to their starting lineup – the South African centre who so often puts them on the front foot – but Leicester saw him coming, often doubled up on him and his impact was limited and largely negated.
“It’s disappointing when you’re bested everywhere and you’ve got to tip your hat to a very good Leicester team,” the Harlequins head coach, Tabai Matson, said. “They didn’t give us anything and we couldn’t get our game into motion. It’s pretty disappointing. It’s probably the worst I’ve felt.”
Reffell was the standout performer in the first half. He scored the opening try down the blindside after Leicester had steadily worn down Quins’ defence and his fine tackle on Luke Northmore forced the Harlequins centre to spill the ball over the line. On top of that the Wales flanker was a menace at the breakdown, preventing Quins from any sort of fluidity.
A scrappy opening half was otherwise notable only for a big hit from Joe Marler on his old mate Dan Cole – the pair going to the ground in instalments – and just how effectively Leicester shackled Harlequins, in particular Esterhuizen. Montoya’s try for Leicester, a powerful finish from a driving maul, was due reward for how well the visitors had defended, allowing them to take a 12-0 lead with them into the break.
Joe Marchant, linked last week with a move to France, did his best to ignite Harlequins but watching Will Evans fumble the ball after his winger made a rare break through the Tigers defence was to see Harlequins’ afternoon summed up. Reffell’s second try, again in the left-hand corner, after a cleverly delayed pass from Jack van Poortvliet, in the buildupgave Leicester a commanding 17-0 lead before Murley finally got Quins on the board, finishing off a slick move from a perfectly placed scrum on the Leicester 22.
Watson’s intercept, telegraphing Esterhuizen’s looping pass, made Leicester’s win safe, even if Murley sped over for his second try and laid the groundwork for Care’s consolation score at the deathafter another break, this one almost the length of the field.
“He’s the best [left-winger] in the league,” Matson said. “On days like that, how do we get the ball to him because he’s so dangerous. That’s probably a learning for us as well.”