Baa-Baas justify place in the rugby calender
The indignity of it all. Shifted unceremoniously from their treasured place among the Christmas festivities and wedged in at the fag end of February, the Barbarians would have found last night's encounter quite daunting enough without any added complications. When they realise that they would be facing Dean Richards in a mud pool on the occasion of his 300th appearance for the Tigers, the scratch side must have felt like, well, scratching.
They will be pleased they turned up. Around 14,000 supporters made their way to Welford Road to remind the rugby world that some traditions transcend even the cut-and-thrust of League and Cup and with Peter Wheeler, the Leicester president and chief executive, promising to do his level best to restore the fixture to its former glory next season, the Baa-Baas felt wanted after all.
Leicester fielded only three current first-choice players and the visitors' international presence was drawn largely from the Second Division of the Test pecking order, but the remarkable local enthusiasm for what was supposed to be an anachronism went a long way towards re-establishing its credibility.
Ten new Barbarians took the field last night, but it was a crafty old- stager, Jeff Probyn, who made the initial impression. Not only did he help his hooker, the Argentinian Federico Mendez, steal a strike against the head on his own line with some typical scrum jiggery-pokery, but he also paved the way for Mendez to claim the opening try on five minutes with a smart pick-up and trundle.
For all Probyn's gnarled expertise, he could not match the scoring strike- rate of his opposite number, Derek Jelley. The tight-head prop crossed twice in nine minutes - total running yardage, approximately eight inches - to put the Tigers in front and even though Diego Dominguez converted his own try in the right corner to throw down the gauntlet, anew, a John Liley penalty left the Baa-Baas a point adrift at the interval.
Yet Paolo Vaccari's power on the right wing gave the visitors an injection of hope within minutes of the restart, the big Italian bouncing his way over in the corner despite the close attentions of Tim Barlow.
A solo try from Aadel Kardooni not withstanding, the invitation side pulled away in the last quarter with simple run-ins from Mike Rayer and Dafydd James. When Rob Henderson, full of physical intent, half-dummied the entire Leicester midfield and bullocked his way through the mud for the clinching score, the famous black and white shirts had fully earned their evening's justification.
Leicester: Tries Jelley 2, Kardooni; Conversion J Liley; Penalty J Liley. Barbarians: Tries Mendez, Dominguez, Vaccari, Rayer, James, Henderson; Conversions Dominguez 4.
Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney (J Wingham, 77), N Malone, C Joiner, T Barlow; R Liley (M Jones, 68), A Kardooni (G Fry, 74); P Freshwater, D West, D Jelley, N Fletcher, M Poole (R Poole, 61), L Moody, D Richards (capt), W Drake-Lee.
Barbarians: M Rayer (Bedford and Wales); P Vaccari (Calvisano and Italy), L Arbizu (Belgrano and Argentina), R Henderson (Wasps and Ireland), D James (Bridgend and Wales); D Dominguez (Milan and Italy), A Troncon (Treviso and Italy); K Colclough (Swansea), F Mendez (Bath and Argentina), J Probyn (Bedford and England, capt), D Grewcock (Coventry), P Sporleder (Curupayti and Argentina), R Martin (San Isidro and Argentina), M Richardson (Aspatria), M White (Wasps).
Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).
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