Healey a faith healer

Leicester 25 Llanelli 16
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The Independent Online
Until Austin Healey's sumptuous try 15 minutes from time, it seemed not much had changed at Welford Road since the onset of professionalism. The home crowd continued to see beauty in the rolling maul and the surging scrummage rather than finesse and flowing back play. There was, too, the usual welcome for the visiting referee, this time the bemused Frenchman Patrick Thomas, many of whose decisions were roundly jeered. It was, however, the easiest of matches to control and for most of the time it was fractured by careless error and a preponderance of penalties.

But Healey's try, for which the scrum-half covered 70 yards in the blink of an eye and which proved the match winner, was a gem to cover the multitude of sins which had preceded it. One wonders what Bob Dwyer, Leicester's enlightened coach, really thinks of it all. Once or twice yesterday there were signs that he was getting a different message through when the Leicester backs, and Will Greenwood in particular, sailed daringly close to Llanelli's defensive winds in their efforts to break through.

It wasn't until the second half, when Leicester belatedly got their act together in the line-out, that they translated their undoubted physical superiority into telling pressure. They were helped additionally by a stiff breeze at their backs which cushioned them against the malfunction in Rob Liley's kicking technique. When, late in the first half, he missed two sitters close to the posts, Leicester's earlier tactic of running penalties in kickable positions became easier to understand.

Throughout the match Llanelli were sharper and more creative behind the scrum and had their midfield backs been more responsive to the tireless promptings of Frano Botica, they would certainly have scored more tries than the one they managed through Matthew Wintle. Botica was a joy to watch and if Dwyer had him running the show at Welford Road the tactical changes required to come up to speed with the modern game might be more quickly achieved. The single blemish in Botica's performance was a missed penalty in front of the posts midway through the second half. Before that he had kicked two penalties from awkward angles and dropped a goal following a curving break by Neil Boobyer. When the ball came back to him from the ruck, Botica, with no sign of support anywhere near, calmly kicked the goal to give Llanelli a 9-3 lead.

At this point Leicester's only salvation appeared to be through their forwards. They set up an attacking platform with a line-out inside Llanelli's 22 and Bill Drake-Lee, peeling from the back, ran through a couple of flimsy tackles to score. Liley's conversion was his last successful kick of the match.

It was a shame that circumstances prevented us from seeing more of Leon Lloyd, the Leicester left wing, who has, on merit, supplanted Rory Underwood. On the few occasions when the ball came his way he looked impressively sharp. His appetite for work is one of the reasons why he has won his place in the side and it was his appearance on the right wing which brought Leicester's second try.

At no stage were Leicester's forwards in complete control. But Llanelli were more alert in the loose, giving the opposition no respite. Wintle broke through to score, which gave Llanelli the lead until one minute later. Healey's superb solo run restored normal service, confirmation of which came four minutes from time when Graham Rowntree rumbled over from a line-out to score Leicester's fourth try.

If victory has ensured top placing in their group for Leicester, defeat is not the end of the line for Llanelli, the chief beneficiaries of Pau's loss to Leinster. It was no more than their spirited performance yesterday deserved.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, W Greenwood, N Malone, L Lloyd; R Liley, A Healey (A Kardooni, 76); G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), B Drake-Lee.

Llanelli: W Proctor; I Evans (capt), M Wintle, N Boobyer, A. Richards; F Botica, R Moon; R Evans (H Williams-Jones, 10-16 and 74), R McBryde, S John, S Ford, V Cooper, P Morris, C Wyatt, M Perego (L Williams, 35- 38).

Referee: P Thomas (Fr).