Rugby Union: Back draws curtain on show-stealers

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The Independent Online
Blackheath. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

Leicester. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

RICHARD COCKERILL was generous in victory, but then Leicester did not have an awful lot to crow about after the Pilkington Cup holders had finally silenced gallant hosts. 'It was their day,' the Tigers hooker said. And it was, Blackheath just a point adrift going into the last 20 minutes and broken only by Neil Back's second scavenging try.

As for Cockerill, he failed to go the distance, a painful hip injury the legacy of some fierce rucking by Mick Skinner's fired-up pack of Third Division terriers. 'They've had their day,' Cockerill said, 'and let's hope ours is to come.' Like his fellow Tigers, Cockerill knew that Blackheath had stolen the show from the First Division high-flyers who are 25 rungs further up the league ladder.

Tonsillitis and flu was some excuse for a less than Tigerish performance on a miserably muddy afternoon, with Tony Underwood, Jez Harris and John Wells all left behind. The disruptions helped Blackheath, no doubt about it, but Leicester knew they should have made life a lot easier for themselves a lot earlier on Saturday.

On the other hand, Blackheath were aware that they had blown a golden opportunity of creating a similar upset to the one experienced by Bath at Waterloo last season. 'Wouldn't it have been great for the lads,' Skinner said, 'going out there again knowing what they know now. They've learned so much.'

There was pride in the voice of the hit man of England's back row in the last World Cup who did so much here to keep Blackheath together. Which, in another way, is a worry. Sam Howard, an outstanding 19- year-old prospect at stand-off, played some wonderfully composed rugby, and therein lies a real danger.

'Clubs like Blackheath,' Skinner said, 'lose players because with the leagues having gone home and away, the top teams need more players for their squads. They will take Howard away and he will want to go.' Skinner, though, hopes that sense will prevail. 'But please leave him alone. Give him another season with us. I don't mind if he learns his trade here, but when it gets to a stage where he can't learn any more then that is the time for him to leave.'

Howard, however, offered some reassurance. Unflappable under pressure and having kicked astutely for position, this the result of much pre-tie practice, the former England Schools international who made his way to the club via Old Alleynians and Gravesend, said: 'I fitted in well here. There is no point in going anywhere else just to play for the seconds. I will stay - definitely.'

Reassuring for Blackheath, who departed the cup having shaken up Leicester with a fifth-minute try from the youngster which Stuart Burns converted. Micky Harris had won a line-out and when Joe MacIntyre chipped ahead, Skinner arrived smartly to set up a winning ruck from which Howard was

released on a weaving run to the posts.

Back replied immediately when Leicester, who enjoyed a two-to-one superiority in the line-outs, gained possession close to the Blackheath line. Wayne Kilford then landed two penalties to one from Burns

before Back, again off a line-out, took a relieved Tigers through.

Blackheath: Try Howard; Conversion Burns; Penalty Burns. Leicester: Tries Back 2; Penalties Kilford 2.

Blackheath: S Burns; S Douglas, J MacIntyre, R Smith (P Mycroft, 10-12), P Mitchell; S Howard, M Friday; M Stewart, C Ridgway, N Cousins, J Sampson, M Begley, M Skinner (capt), M Harris,

T Booth.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, S Potter, L Boyle, R Underwood; N Malone, A Kardooni; G Rowntree (J Aldwinckle, 23), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Murphy, D Richards (capt),

N Back.

Referee: G Seddon (Wigan).