Leicester were given a foretaste of what to expect when the European Cup starts as they were handed any number of sharp lessons in creativity and defensive organisation while being comprehensively outplayed by Agen in the final of the inaugural International Challenge Cup at Welford Road yesterday.
For future tournaments to be judged a success and taken seriously, clubs will have to field something like full-strength teams and not treat the event like some glorified training exercise. Even with a pounds 57,500 prize fund, some of the rugby resembled nothing more extending than touch-and- pass. Agen took the contest more meaningfully than the others but, even so, they made eight substitutions in a one-sided final.
Whatever doubts may exist about the value of such events, Bob Dwyer, Leicester's newly-installed director of coaching, was left in no doubt about the size of the task confronting him as he attempts to reshape Leicester's midfield to make them fully competitive.
With fresh half-backs and a new centre pairing, Dwyer is short of time as he prepares for the match against Saracens on Saturday. "We wanted to win," Dwyer said, "but Agen were better prepared and had already played a lot of games. But we've no complaints, at least we finished full of fight."
In fact, Leicester finished with a penalty try awarded when Agen pulled down a maul as Leicester's forwards rolled towards the line. Until then, Leicester had never threatened to score a try, being kept afloat in torrential rain by five penalties. John Liley scored the first two before departing with a leg injury. Matt Jones got the others and the conversion as Leicester hauled themselves to some sort of respectability.
But by then Agen, immeasurably superior in defence with some delightful touches from Olivier Campan and Jean-Charles Cistacq, were coasting to victory. After Cistacq had scored, Abdelatif Benazzi, Agen's captain, left in another bewildering bout of substitutions. Benazzi clearly sensed that his job was done, and with Agen leading 25-15 Leicester had no chance of breaking them down.
Leicester: J Liley (C Joiner, 30); S Hackney, W Greenwood, G Austin, R Underwood (N Malone, 67); M Jones, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, P Freshwater, M Johnson, M Poole, E Miller, B Drake-Lee, D Richards (capt).
Agen: S Longo; L Loubere, O Campan (S Prosper, 48), J-C Cistacq, J-F Mateo; G Bouic, G Sudre (E Tolot, 53); J-J Crenca (F Watbled, h-t; J Abraham, 73), B Fabre, P Piacentini, N El Meekaoui, C Porcu (L Lubrano, 48), P Benetton (J Troader, h-t), D Lagrange, A Benazzi (capt; F Bourdeilh, 63).
Referee: B Campsall (Sowerby).