Rugby Union: Adventurous Tigers left whistling in the wings

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . .28

Northampton. . .15

AS things can only get better, future opponents of Leicester in the league had better beware. The Tigers may have scratched around and failed to reach the high standards they have set themselves, but few could ignore the warning signs at Welford Road, where prayers were answered on the wing even if the boot of Jez Harris provided the bulk of the points.

This time last year Leicester were left with a game of pursuit after the opening defeat at Northampton, an ultimately frustrating state of affairs that saw them trail in second to Bath. 'We need 80 minutes out of the top drawer if we are to get off to a winning start and avoid having to play catch-up over the whole season,' Tony Russ said.

On Saturday, though, something from the second or third drawer down had to suffice for the club's coaching director. 'First Division rugby has been boring and stagnant and we aim to be at the forefront of trying to change that,' Russ said. 'Maybe the bottom line is playing attractive rugby. We know how to play winning rugby and it is boring.'

In which case, things were put on hold here. The main problem lay behind the infuriating number of penalty awards, a total around the 30 mark disrupting any lofty thoughts of a flowing approach to disposing of tenacious local rivals. How the 10,000-plus crowd groaned at this whistle- stop contest.

The obvious target was the referee, but then Tony Spreadbury's hands, so to speak, had been effectively tied by the directive from headquarters that he and his fellow officials must apply the laws rigorously. Helped by players who constantly strayed offside or buried the ball, he could hardly be blamed for following orders.

All of which should have goalkickers licking their lips in anticipation of a winter that may well be littered with the discontent of others who prefer something more attractive than the constant peppering of posts. Here, there was hardly anything to applaud as the killjoys killed off movement.

Harris and Paul Grayson shared 16 penalty attempts, Harris just shading his opponent with a haul of 18 points. Both, of course, were just going about their business and in Grayson's case his accuracy was an essential part in covering up the cracks apparent among the visitors.

With Martin Hynes, the prop recruited from Orrell, sidelined by a knee cartilage operation, and Gavin Baldwin thumb-twiddling on the bench, the Saints front row creaked to such an extent that Dean Richards was able to stand off most scrums when the Tigers were not enjoying the put-in.

Besides which, Martin Johnson was such a towering line-out force that the Saints were never really in a position to threaten. Bearing in mind that Bath are next up, Ian McGeechan, Northampton's new director of rugby, said: 'The players understand what they have to do and what they've got to get right.'

In just a week? Well, that appears to be stretching things, even if Leicester successfully stretched the Saints defence only twice, midway through the first half when the tearaway Steve Hackney was gleefully put away and in the final minute when the ball was worked to Tony Underwood, another starved Tiger.

Leicester: Tries Hackney, Underwood; Penalties Harris 6. Northampton: Penalties Grayson 5.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, D Edwards, S Potter, T Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), W Drake-Lee.

Northampton: I Hunter; H Thorneycroft, N Beal, R MacNaughton, C Moir; P Grayson, B Taylor; M Volland, P Roworth, C Allen, M Bayfield, N Edwards, P Walton, T Rodber (capt), A Poutney.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Bristol).