Rugby Union: Back pounces to settle the issue

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Blackheath . .10

Leicester. . .16

A DREAM start, shame about the finish. Mick Skinner's fat boys, as he loves to describe the forwards, did Blackheath proud yesterday and his 'girls' in the backs did not do a bad job either. But at the end of 80 minutes it was Leicester, with a bit more meat and muscle about them, who lived to fight another day in the Pilkington Cup.

The Tigers, though, had to claw their way into this fourth-round tie after Blackheath had hit them with a fifth-minute try. And when the holders led at the interval by a slender point, they still had the Rectory Field slope to contend with, besides opponents who refused to lie down. It made for some riveting rugby.

Blackheath's hopes were raised before the kick-off with news that Tony Underwood had flu and that Jez Harris and John Wells had also been withdrawn because of tonsillitis.

In the event, though, Dean Richards proved the usual handful in the back row and then, of course, there was always Neil Back, who settled the issue by scoring both Leicester tries.

'Our problem will come in the second half,' Skinner had predicted, and his assessment was spot on. 'I'd just like us to produce the biggest rolling maul you've seen.' Well, the former England flanker had to settle for two or three rather good, smaller efforts by his pack, who put in a magnificent effort on an afternoon of mud and drizzle just made for forwards.

The crucial area proved to be the line-out, where Leicester took the ball at a ratio of two to one. Blackheath had dropped Doug Hursey, their expert in this area, and Skinner said: 'I don't mind telling you I was not happy with the situation. For somebody of 42, he's outstanding, and the guy is a stalwart of the club.'

So Blackheath may well have shot themselves in the foot, but they were nevertheless encouraged by the sort of early strike that lifts underdogs. Micky Harris won a line-out, Joe MacIntyre chipped ahead for Skinner to set up a winning ruck and Sam Howard danced over at the posts for Stuart Burns to convert.

Leicester's reply was immediate when Richards drove off a line-out following Niall Malone's mighty touch-finder. Back burrowed over to complete the work and they went ahead when Wayne Kilford landed a penalty.

Kilford and Burns then exchanged penalties after the break, which still left Blackheath trailing by a point but full of hope. Back, though, had the last word, pouncing on a loose line-out tap by the mortified Harris for the try that takes Leicester into tomorrow's fifth-round draw.

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).