Leicester 16-14 Harlequins: Hosts on cloud nine as George Ford eclipses Marcus Smith in the fly-half battle to maintain the Tigers' unbeaten record

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George Ford outclassed Marcus Smith - the man who stole his England shirt Leicester hung on for a ninth straight win at an absolutely packed Welford RoadFord, who is leaving for Sale at the end of the season, was at the heart of the win 

George Ford kicked Leicester on to cloud nine, continuing their unbeaten start to the season with an 11-point haul to outclass Marcus Smith — the man who stole his England shirt.

In front of the biggest Welford Road crowd for three years, the Tigers clung on for a ninth consecutive victory.  

This run, including the final day victory at Wasps last season, equals their longest stretch of victories in the Premiership — 10 in their winter pomp of 2001-02. 

George Ford (centre) eclipsed Marcus Smith (left), the man who stole his England shirt, in the battle of the fly-halves as Ford's Leicester beat Harlequins 16-14 at Welford Road on Sunday

George Ford (centre) eclipsed Marcus Smith (left), the man who stole his England shirt, in the battle of the fly-halves as Ford’s Leicester beat Harlequins 16-14 at Welford Road on Sunday

Ford kicked 11 points and controlled the game beautifully from No 10 for Steve Borthwick's XV

Ford kicked 11 points and controlled the game beautifully from No 10 for Steve Borthwick’s XV

And Ford, who is leaving for Sale in the summer, was at the heart of a blood-pumping win, as Harry Potter scored Tigers’ only try.

Louis Lynagh scored a try and Smith kicked the rest of Harlequins’ points, but was sin-binned as Ford proved a diamond, trumping the visitors’ playmaker.

‘George adapted how we played after the first quarter,’ said Leicester coach Steve Borthwick of Ford.

‘That’s the sign of his quality, a player on the field able to recognise what needed to be done and be able to do it — that’s class.

‘We would have loved George to stay but this is professional sport. He made that decision so we will maximise everything we can this season.’

If fans came for Smith v Ford, they stayed for the performances of Ben Youngs and Freddie Steward. Youngs was on a mission and fooled Quins twice with the sort of sniping runs Danny Care is known for.

There was little space to exploit out wide with two fine defences on show, so the first half was pock-marked only by penalties — three for Ford and two for Smith.  

Tigers boss Borthwick has managed his side to nine consecutive victories in the Premiership

Tigers boss Borthwick has managed his side to nine consecutive victories in the Premiership

But Smith was absent for 10 minutes, sin-binned much to the delight of the Crumbie Terrace who jeered him off when he slapped the ball from Youngs’ hands, trying to make up for a passive tackle in defence.

However, Leicester No 8 Jasper Wiese levelled the numbers up quickly, yellow-carded too after a no-arms tackle. With him off, Quins should have scored before half-time.

They built phases on the Leicester line, then had a three-on-one overlap which Scotland centre Huw Jones wasted, failing to remove his blinkers to find men outside. He was held up over the line by a superb Potter tackle.

After the break it was Potter who had the first try — provided by Ford and Youngs. Ford quickly fizzed a ball to Youngs on the left wing, and the scrum-half’s wonderful dink towards the posts was gathered by Potter who scored.

Ford kicked Leicester into a 10-point lead as Smith returned. Quins hit a third penalty when Jack Kenningham secured a jackal turnover, and when he conjured an opening for Lynagh the winger took it superbly, chipping ahead and then out-pacing everyone to slide in on the damp turf.

Smith’s shanked conversion attempt had Harlequins still two points behind with 15 minutes left. Ford later missed a long penalty, but it did not prove pivotal.

‘They’re nine from nine for a reason,’ said Quins boss Tabai Matson. ‘We played well today, but we weren’t quite good enough.’  

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