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Manu Tuilagi puts on show for Eddie Jones but Leicester lose to Harlequins

Published 19/02/2016

Manu Tuilagi returned for Leicester as they lost to Harlequins
Manu Tuilagi returned for Leicester as they lost to Harlequins

Manu Tuilagi made a successful comeback from injury in front of head coach Eddie Jones but his return failed to save Leicester from a 25-19 Aviva Premiership defeat by Harlequins.

Tuilagi missed the last three matches with a hamstring strain but started alongside debutant Jean de Villiers in the Tigers' midfield on an evening that saw the title rivals toil in difficult conditions.

It took the 24-year-old's power to help Leicester score their only try, rampaging forward to place Quins on the retreat until Harry Thacker arrived to touch down.

His evening was not without setback, however, after he lost the ball in the tackle in 75th minute to help Marland Yarde run in a try that sealed Quins' victory.

Jones is hoping to involve Tuilagi, who returned from 15 months out with a groin injury last month, in the RBS 6 Nations showdown with Wales on March 12 and will have been encouraged by the impact he made at Twickenham Stoop.

England's head coach was sat among supporters in the stands wearing his customary black beanie hat and will discuss the player's fitness with his director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

Jones plans to select Tuilagi at inside centre, claiming he can emulate All Blacks great Ma'a Nonu, and this encounter was only the fifth time he has started in the position.

Leicester endured a torrid evening in the scrum, conceding four penalties, and also saw De Villiers leave the pitch late on with what appeared to be an injury to his nose.

The defeat sees them replaced by Quins in third place in the Premiership table, but a late Freddie Burns penalty rescued a losing bonus point.

Quins lost fly-half Nick Evans to a broken leg earlier this week - he will not return until early May - but Ben Botica proved an able deputy despite the win and rain that marred this play-off showdown, finishing with 20 points.

A breathless passage of play lit up the opening quarter with Telusa Veainu picking off an intercept only to be cut off by a brilliant tackle from Ross Chisholm, who had forced the ball loose.

Quins countered and worked wing Tim Visser into space, but the Scotland wing's chip ahead bounced into touch with no one sweeping the backfield.

James Horwill, captaining Quins for the first time, conceded a breakdown penalty that enabled Oli Bryant to nudge the Tigers 6-3 ahead but the former Australia skipper had otherwise enjoyed a strong start to the evening.

Yarde lost his footing after an ankle tap having worked his way off the right wing and into a dangerous position, before an offload from man of the match Luke Wallace went astray as the 2012 Premiership champions probed once again.

Leicester were playing with a strong wind behind their back but when the interval of a scrappy first-half arrived they led just 9-9 - a poor return given the elements were in their favour.

The arm-wrestle continued into the second half and Quins were getting the better of it, winning the battle at the breakdown with two penalties from Botica punishing the Tigers.

Leicester sprang into action in the 56th minute, however, when Tuilagi burst forward, brushing aside Wallace to set up a dangerous position and one phase later replacement hooker Thacker was over.

Freddie Burns landed the conversion but the Tigers' difficulties at the scrum cost them three points.

The decisive blow was dealt with six minutes to go when Tuilagi lost the ball in the tackle and Yarde pounced.

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