Rugby Union: Back's bite lifts Tigers to old heights

Leicester 42 Richmond 19
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The Independent Online
WHEN Leicester were soundly beaten by Richmond at a frost-bound Athletic Ground one mid-week evening last December, there were already some concerns about the Tigers lacking the consistency so vital to championship winning teams.

From the turn of the year those anxieties have assumed a greater substance so that Leicester, with almost two months of the season still to run, find themselves in the unaccustomed position of having little to play for. While it is still possible for Leicester to catch the leading trio, it would require a slump on the scale the Tories suffered last May. One of Bath, Saracens or Newcastle might conceivably slip up. Even two of them. But surely not all three.

Leicester can still have a say in the destination of the Allied Dunbar Premiership One trophy though it is almost certain not to be Welford Road, even though Saracens must still come here, and Leicester have to travel to Newcastle, who are seven points ahead of the Tigers.

If Leicester had shown some of the imagination and sureness of ball control which undermined Richmond yesterday, they might still be in the title chase.

Given that Richmond have not won on this ground since 1974, from very early on one sensed that it might not be Richmond's day. Adrian Davies fired the first penalty of the afternoon high enough, but it struck the left upright, only for the rebound to bounce unkindly for the unmarked Allan Bateman.

Moments later, the electric Dominic Chapman outpaced Austin Healey in what looked to be a try-scoring burst up the left flank. But Chapman had put a foot on the touchline, so another five points when begging. Handed their next chance when Neil Back stilled some quality possession, Richmond could hardly miss. Craig Quinnell scooped up the ball, Earl Va'a took it on to hand Spencer Brown an easy run-in for the try, which Davies converted.

Notwithstanding this slipshod piece of handling, Back was to become the pivotal figure. The flanker made space to put Stuart Potter a cross for Leicester's first try. He then sped through the narrowest of gaps to provide Will Greenwood with a try. And when Joel Stransky had converted Greenwood's second try Leicester had advanced to 22-7.

Back and Stransky ensured that Leicester made a better fist of starting the second period. It was only a minute old when Stransky dropped a neat goal. Six when Back was driven over for the Tigers' fourth try and not much longer before the game took on a real end-of-season feel. For Richmond that cannot come soon enough.

They played some attractive rugby in patches, especially in the passages of play leading to Bateman's two second-half tries. But Greenwood's third touchdown and Graham Rowntree's try brought Leicester the comfort of revenge, if little else.

Leicester: M Horak; A Healey (L Lloyd, 75), W Greenwood, S Potter, C Joiner; J Stransky, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt; M Corry, 79), F Van Heerden (M Poole, 69), E Miller, N Back, W Johnson.

Richmond: M Pini; A Bateman, E Va'a (J Wright, 61), D Chapman; A Davies, A Moore; D McFarland, B Williams, J Davies (D Crompton, 75), C Quinnell, C Gillies, R Hutton, A Vander (C Palmer, 61), B Clarke (capt).

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm, Teesside).