Rugby Union: Exiles aiming only to survive

Leicester 24 London Scottish 12
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The Independent Online
"I KNOW my name will be the same. That is all." As an employee of London Scottish, their coach, Alan Zondagh, might have thought twice before making even that prediction of what the remainder of the season will hold for his beleaguered and bewildered club.

After watching his side go down fighting at league leaders Leicester, Zondagh admitted that even the coaching staff - who have been briefed daily on the Bristol buy-out bid since before the news became public - do not know where their next orders will be coming from.

After first blowing hot enough to trumpet their intention of supplanting the Exiles at Welford Road, the West Countryman's ardour has quickly cooled. The game of bluff is now the sport of rugby's political kingpins and Zondagh's views did little to dispel the idea of Malcolm Pearce's pounds 1m bid for Scottish as a stalking horse designed to startle the Rugby Football Union into a guarantee of automatic promotion. He said: "I still think we will survive until the end of the season - and I'm sure we will do it as London Scottish."

The longer term position remains as uncertain as ever though. "As for what happens after that..." The South African shrugged.

One scenario favoured by ironists is that Bristol buy Scottish only for the Exiles to finish below the cut-off point for a British league themselves. On this evidence, however, they may yet reach mid-table safety on the strength of their own resources.

While Leicester's class told by three tries to nil, they knew they had been in a match. The ball may rarely get far beyond the boot of Jannie de Beer at stand-off, but Scottish make up for what they lack in finesse with hard, physical graft that should be a match for many.

Ultimately, the key difference between the sides - and between the top and bottom of the Premiership - was the skill to exploit half-chances in attack and the discipline to shut down similar openings in defence. Twice early on, Scottish were within touching distance of tries but came up empty. Leicester, although profligate late on, finished decisively when it mattered.

As Zondagh put it: "You give them half a gap and they score three fantastic tries. They are the best team in the competition."

Scottish at least will be happy to still be in the competition. But like the red cards of protest raised resignedly by their supporters at half- time, their hope of a long-term future flutter forlornly against the prevailing wind.

Leicester: Tries Van Heerden 2, Lloyd; Penalties Murphy 2, Stransky. London Scottish: Penalties De Beer 3; Drop goal De Beer.

Leicester: G Murphy (T Stimpson, 51); L Loyd, S Potter, P Howard (J Stuart, 69), D Lougheed; J Stransky, A Healey (J Hamilton, 76); G Rowntree (D Jelley, 69), R Cockerill (D West, 69), D Garforth, M Corry, F van Heerden, L Moody, W Johnson, N Back (capt).

London Scottish: I McAusland (S Forrest, 62); K Milligan, D Lee, R Eriksson, C Sharman; J de Beer, G Easterby; P Johnstone, D Cummins (D Rudham, h- t; M McDonald, 74), P Burnell, E Jones, M Watson, S Fenn, R Hunter, S Holmes (capt).

Referee: C White (Somerset).

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