Rugby Union: Corry banished in dishonourable draw

Leicester 15 Northampton 15
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THE ONLY certainty about this local derby was that it finished as 14 men against 15 men. There appeared to be some doubt as to why Leicester's Martin Corry was sent off in the 25th minute. The result was in doubt until the final whistle, which was in the fourth minute of injury time and it was questionable that the players knew they were in a game of rugby in a first half which degenerated from the second minute into a disgraceful succession of flying fists and feuding forwards.

Corry's sending-off could have been one of a number. Indeed while he was throwing a corking right hook to floor Northampton's Jason Chandler, which the referee Ed Morrison deemed was good enough to warrant a red card, Tim Rodber was tussling on the ground with Neil Back.

Ian McGeechan, Northampton's director of coaching, said that he thought that Corry had been sent off for using his foot or his knee on Rodber's head, but Morrison was later insistent that Corry had been dismissed for throwing a punch. That being the case then the Leicester captain Martin Johnson was lucky to have stayed on in the third minute.

The England lock, banned for a match after thumping the New Zealand captain Justin Marshall before Christmas, caught Chandler with a right hander but neither the touch judges nor the referee spotted the offence. The scrapping continued to the interval. In the light of the last few days and the ultimatum from England it was understandable that perhaps the players' minds were not as focused on the game as they might have been, but to channel everything into their personal grudge matches was to deprive the sell-out 14,000-plus crowd of some fine entertainment, judging by the thrilling climax to the match.

Northampton were within an ace of pulling off what would have been an Allied Dunbar Premiership double when the Tigers, claws out, galloped upfield and the Scotland wing Craig Joiner swept over in the corner for a try in the second minute of injury time. Joel Stransky, who had not had the best of days with the boot, slotted the touchline conversion and the match looked over. It seemed that Paul Grayson's four penalties were all for nought.

But the Saints yomped back, worked their way to within 40 metres and that was close enough as far as Grayson was concerned. The drop-goal he sent between the uprights could have landed right in the collective mouth of the crowd so silent were they, struck dumb with disbelief.

But perhaps it was justice. The Leicester pack battled gamely, handicapped as they were, and when the fighting had given way to rugby again they showed they were prepared to run at their opponents. Indeed they scored two tries. The first came late in the first half when Matt Poole caught the ball at a line-out and the super seven drove for the line. Neil Back, whose superlative footballing skill had won them the position with the most calculated of chips tight into the right corner, deservedly got the final touch. And everyone except Corry went home happier.

Leicester: M Horak; C Joiner (J Hamilton, 82), W Greenwood, S Potter, L Lloyd; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree (P Freshwater, 71), R Cockerill (D West, 71), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole, P Gustard, M Corry, N Back (L Moody, 83).

Northampton: I Hunter; J Sleightholme, A Northey, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Pagel, C Johnson, M Hynes, J Phillips, J Chandler, T Rodber (capt; J Wright 25-33), G Seely, D Mackinnon.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol)