Champions finally click into high gear

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The Independent Online
DAVID LLEWELLYN

Leicester 43 Bristol 6

Leicester had promised from the start of the season that they were going to play an expansive game in the defence of the title, but the howls of the critics, hounding them at every one of their seven previous First Division matches, grew ever louder as they fell short of their bold words.

But after 625 minutes of rugby the Tigers finally burned bright. A wonderful move, which their director of rugby Tony Russ, hooking on to hyperbole, euphorically described as the try of the century, finally removed all the doubts. It involved seven players, 10 passes, 110 yards - the length of the pitch - and transported a coaching vision into reality. It also brought the crowd to its feet, the match to life and Bristol to their knees.

Twice now, Bristol have been on the receiving end of dazzling performances by the country's top two clubs, yet on neither occasion have they looked all that bad. Dean Richards, back after his two-match totting up ban, acknowledged this. "Bristol are an extremely good side," he said. "Very hard. Very committed."

That was not quite the way their coach Brian Hanlon saw things. He said: "It is a young side. We are showing a lot of naivete at times. But we played poorly today. Our ball retention was poor. But the commitment's there, the heart's there."

Unfortunately, the prop Alan Sharp will not be after picking up his second yellow card of the season. He now faces a similar fate to that of Richards and could be out of the reckoning for Scotland's match against Western Samoa in three weeks.

Richards himself felt the display vindicated the Tigers' perseverance in their quest for total rugby. The England No 8 said: "We've had a lot of stick for playing negative rugby, but we are improving as the season goes on. We scored some lovely tries today."

A match that at times stumbled from penalty to fussy penalty was initially brought to life in the 23rd minute by a stupendous try from Rory Underwood, England's thirtysomething wing covering 70 yards and leaving a lot of red-faced 20-year-olds flailing wildly in his slipstream.

At full-back, John Liley again underlined his all-round talent with a league match record eight out of eight penalties - he also converted two of the three tries - as well as making frequent bursts into the line to help launch numerous Leicester attacks.

He was a member of that magnificent seven who, in the 65th minute, helped move the ball from one end of the pitch to the other where Steve Hackney got the final touch. Both Russ and Richards were left pondering how much more Liley has to do to catch the eye of the England selectors.

Leicester: Tries Underwood, Cockerill, Hackney; Conversions Liley 2; Penalties Liley 8. Bristol: Penalties Hull 2.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, R Robinson, R Underwood; N Malone, A Kardooni (D Grewcock, 75); G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth (D Jelley 78), M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Bristol: P Hull (capt); K Maggs, J Keyter, M Denney, N Marval (M Newall 58-61); A Thomas, B Harvey: A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, G Archer, R Armstrong, M Corry, I Patten.

Referee: S Piercy (Goole)

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