Rugby Union: Back at the height of his powers

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . . 38

Wasps. . . . . . .6

IF Neil Back has no future with England, then heaven help English rugby. Yesterday the Leicester flanker, once described by Geoff Cooke, England's manager, as being short of the necessary requirements in terms of stature, had an immense match to help condemn Wasps to their biggest league defeat.

Back, the flaxen-haired fitness fanatic, is a gem of a footballer at a time when the back-row emphasis at the top level is on height and bulk. New Zealanders, though, could not understand why Back was left at home by the Lions tour. According to the Blacks, Back is best even if he does only measure 5ft 10in.

Wasps, no doubt, would agree after experiencing Back breathing down their necks throughout a crucial game in which keeping in contact with Bath was the prize. 'Back gave the definitive performance for a No 7,' Tony Russ, the Leicester's coaching director, said.

Losing heavily at Welford Road is becoming all too familiar for Wasps, whose previous worst performance on this ground - 31-12 - took place two seasons ago. With five minutes on the clock, a big drive off a line-out saw Wayne Kilford and Stuart Potter launch an attack which led to Back plunging over on the left from a ruck.

The line-outs, of course, were crucial and Leicester's tall men, Martin Johnson and Matt Poole, scored heavily. But where Wasps really lost out was in pace around the park. Back never let up and neither did his colleagues, Dean Richards and John Wells.

After Jez Harris had warmed up his right boot with a conversion, two penalties and a drop goal along the way to 18 points, Wells saw Leicester into a 21-6 interval lead when another line-out success resulted in the No 6 being put away to the line by Kilford.

The young Kilford, deputising for the injured John Liley at full- back, had an excellent match, but it was a forward's day and the misery for Wasps continued when Poole and Richards smashed through a beaten and bruised defence.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, I Bates, S Potter, D Wigley; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Wasps: A Buzza; P Hopley, F Clough, D Hopley, C Oti; R Andrew, M Skinner; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, S Shortland, M Greenwood, D Ryan (capt), L Dallaglio.

Referee: D Matthews (St Helens).

Scores: Back / Harris (try / con, 5 min, 7-0); Harris (pen, 12 min, 10-0); Andrew (pen, 18 min, 10-3); Harris (pen, 22 min, 13-3); Harris (drop goal, 24 min, 16-3); Andrew (pen, 31 min, 16-6); Wells (try, 37 min, 21-6); Poole / Harris (try / con, 57 min, 28-6); Harris (pen, 65 min, 31-6); Richards / Harris (try / con, 79 min, 38-6).