Callard's kicking is the key

Leicester 9 Bath 14 Courage League: A splendid new setting but leading clubs play the same old hoof-and-hope game
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The Independent Online
WELFORD ROAD with its gleaming new stand and its state of the art clubhouse looked magnificent, a manifestation of the prosperity of one of England's premier clubs and a monument to rugby's future. Alas, the game itself was depressingly rooted in the past. In the first 12 minutes there were seven penalties, four kicks at goal, a drop goal attempt and half a dozen bruising tackles. Twice the ball travelled from the base of the scrum to the fly-half and on both occasions it was hoofed into the air. It was 28 minutes before the ball went to the wing but by the time it reached Audley Lumsden so too had the entire Leicester cover defence.

It may have enthralled the 14,000 crowd, the great majority of whom were passionately committed to one cause or the other, but for the wider audience which rugby union must now seek and attract, the product simply isn't good enough. There is something very badly wrong with a game in which the sight of one side attempting to shove the other off the ball at the scrummage brings the crowd to a pitch of ecstasy.

There are times, of course, when a crushing tackle is every bit as spectacularly thrilling as the blazing break and part of the game's enduring charm is the variety of its ploys and the subtlety of its tactics. But the fact is that the laws as they are written and as they are at present being interpreted encourage neither variety nor subtlety. Yesterday's game was certainly no worse than the way competitive rugby is being played every week in England. It only seemed that way because the two sides were so evenly matched. Two powerful packs, each with their rapid reaction units in the back row, two midfields squeezed into submission and two goal kickers neither of whom quite found the strike power to give either side the advantage.

Midway through the second half the scores were level at 6-6, Jon Callard kicking two penalties for Bath against John Liley's brace for Leicester. Despite the colossal contribution made by Leicester's Martin Johnson in the maelstrom of the line-out, Bath had made better use of their possession, looking decidedly sharp at half back and carrying more threat out wide. If Niall Malone and Jamie Hamilton had been selected for their running ability they seemed hell-bent on changing their image yesterday. Until the latter stages of the game they kicked almost everything. It was typical of the game that the decisive score should have come from a cock-up behind the Leicester scrum, albeit one caused by Neil Back.

In the lead-up to the moment Mike Catt hacked down Stuart Potter with a superb tackle, but from the ruck Leicester set off on a rare and daring venture into the unknown. Unfortunately Back's pass missed its intended target and Adedayo Adebayo intercepted the bouncing ball to sprint half the length of the field before taking off over the line with needless flamboyance. The fact that he failed to touch down properly was, fortunately for him, undetected by the referee.

It was then and only then, with 18 minutes of the match remaining, that Leicester decided to expand their horizons and Back, the jewel hidden under the floorboards, began to exert his influence, although in truth it was not his day. Liley kicked his third penalty after Bath, in their attempts to staunch the flow, were caught off-side. It set up a final 10 minutes which, in contrast to what had preceded it, was a frenzy of excitement. Potter was launched on yet another barn-storming run into Bath's underbelly and Leicester won a penalty in front of the posts. Liley, who had missed with two kicks earlier, crucially pulled this one and Leicester's last chance had gone. They kept coming at Bath, but always there was a loose pass or a stray body to thwart them. Steve Hackney was nailed down by Jeremy Guscott, Malone had a drop kick at goal charged down and then, to the seething disapproval of the Leicester side and their supporters, Tony Rowlands awarded a penalty for obstruction in the last seconds of the game. Callard kicked his third penalty and with it very possibly went Leicester's hopes of retaining their title.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, R Robinson, R Underwood; N Malone, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, N Back, D Richards (capt).

Bath: J Callard; A Lumsden, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, A Nicol; K Yates, J Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, A Robinson, S Ojomoh, B Clarke.

Referee: T Rowlands (WRU).

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