Jean de Villiers spent 75 minutes on the field as Leicester lost 25-19 to Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop on Friday night. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The former Bok captain had been named on the bench for this English Premiership match, but ended up starting at outside centre in place of Matt Smith, with Manu Tuilagi on his inside.
It was De Villiers's first outing since breaking his jaw in the Boks' second World Cup pool match against Samoa. He signed a six-month deal with Leicester in October, but would spend four months on the sidelines before finally making his debut for the club.
The 34-year-old had a quiet first half, with Tuilagi making the greater impact with ball in hand. The Tigers had the wind at their backs, so Harlequins would have been the happier side when the scores were locked at 9-9 at the break.
Quins flyhalf Ben Botica slotted his fourth penalty early in the second half, but was off target with another scrum penalty from further out. The Tigers then brought Freddie Burns on for flyhalf Oliver Bryant, who had kicked three penalties.
Botica's boot extended the hosts' lead to six, but the Tigers hit back with a converted try from replacement hooker Harry Thacker after another strong carry from Tuilagi.
Botica's sixth penalty put Quins back in front 18-16 before De Villiers finally made his presence felt with a good carry over halfway.
Burns was unsuccessful with a difficult penalty attempt with seven minutes to go. Soon after, Tuilagi lost possession and Marland Yarde collected Botica's kick ahead to score a converted try. De Villiers, who had been unable to haul Yarde in, was substituted.
The Tigers, though, refused to lie down, and Burns' penalty brought them back to within striking range.
Leicester then took the ball through 21 phases before eventually knocking on in the 84th minute.
Harlequins – Try: Marland Yarde. Conversion: Ben Botica. Penalties: Botica (6).
Leicester – Try: Harry Thacker. Conversion: Freddie Burns. Penalties: Oliver Bryant (3), Burns.
Harlequins – 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Harry Sloan, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Mat Luamanu, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 James Horwill (c), 3 Adam Jones, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Mark Lambert
Subs: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 George Merrick, 20 James Chisholm, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Matt Hopper.
Leicester – 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Oli Bryant, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Laurence Pearce, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Ed Slater (c), 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Logovi'i Mulipola, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Matt Smith.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images