Harlequins scrum half Danny Care dropped a timely reminder to England boss Stuart Lancaster that he should be the starting No.9 in the Six Nations after an all-star showing against Leicester Tigers.
Care started the opening two fixtures of the autumn internationals for England before being axed in favour of Leicester’s Ben Youngs but in a shoot-out for the No.9 jersey to start against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in February, it was the Harlequins man who came out on top.
He scored a first half try, was instrumental in Jack Clifford’s score just seconds before the break and was also influential around the fringes and in defence.
Marland Yarde added a third score for Harlequins on 45 minutes and with time up they secured the all-important bonus-point as Mike Brown fed replacement Tim Swiel for the fourth try.
Quins’ Ben Botica and Leicester’s Owen Williams exchanged kicks at goal but it was Care who proved the difference between the two sides after a mesmerising display.
Leicester got their noses in front early as England full-back Mike Brown was penalised for not releasing the rampaging Graham Kitchener and Williams, who ended speculation about his future this week by signing a new deal, scored an early penalty.
The Tigers have lost just one Aviva Premiership game since the start of the October and that good run of form showed in the opening quarter as they started like an express train and dominated in the loose.
On ten minutes Richard Cockerill’s men went into a 6-0 lead as Williams converted his second penalty of the afternoon after Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler was penalised at scrum time for needlessly collapsing the set piece.
Harlequins had won just two of their last five Aviva Premiership fixtures but they looked rejuvenated against Leicester despite their shaky start; buoyed by the return of England internationals Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler after injury.
Slowly but surely Harlequins got a foothold in the game and after 13 minutes fly-half Botica – making his first Aviva Premiership appearance in three months after injury – landed a long range penalty to halve the deficit.
Brown was fortunate to get away with a mistake inside his own 22 on 17 minutes, with Miles Benjamin bearing down on him, the England full-back dithered and was thankful to wing Yarde for clearing up under pressure.
In blustery conditions, Williams took his Premiership tally for the season to over 100 points as he converted his third penalty of the afternoon after yet more ill-discipline by Harlequins – this time at the line-out.
Harlequins responded in the best possible way on 23 minutes as Care – dropped by England during the autumn internationals in favour of Leicester’s Youngs – scored a sniping try from the 22; created by Nick Easter on his 250th club appearance and converted by Botica.
Care was at it again at the other end shortly after, making a try saving tackle on the rampaging Kitchener, before getting up and sending through an accurate kick that nearly put Quins on the offensive.
Care was certainly winning the battle of the England scrum half rehearsal with Youngs; and it was his quick penalty-tap deep in Tigers territory that led to flanker Clifford stretching over for a 38th minute Quins try – unfortunately Botica was unable to add the extras.
Harlequins started where they had left off before the break as Yarde raced in from the halfway line on 45 minutes to add his side’s third score of the afternoon, with Botica again adding the extras to take the score to 22-9.
And it got worse for Leicester on 49 minutes as flanker Julian Salvi was penalised for pulling down a Quins’ attacking line-out, allowing Botica the opportunity to add another three points off the kicking tee.
There was an immediate response for Leicester as Williams successfully kicked a penalty after Easter had been penalised at the breakdown to bring the score back to 25-12, while minutes later Botica missed two kicks at goal.
Perhaps with Europe in mind, Leicester withdrew both Youngs brothers with a quarter of the game still to go but the arrival of fresh blood seemed to rejuvenate the Tigers.
For all of their possession Leicester were unable to secure a try and with it a losing bonus point as Easter – on his special day – sparkled in the latter stages defensively.
In the final play of the game Swiel scored a fourth try for Harlequins, racing into the corner after being put through by the impressive Brown – the replacement also added the extras to make the final score 32-12.