Rugby Union: Gallant West expose Leicester's back problems

West Hartlepool 19 Leicester 30
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The Independent Online
PAUL STEPHENS

West Hartlepool 19 Leicester 30

Leicester are no more what they think they are than West Hartlepool are where they want to be, each in different ways making an indifferent start to their campaigns. Having come so close to winning both the First Division title and the Pilkington Cup last spring, Leicester are unlikely to improve on those near-misses this season unless they can tighten the nuts and bolts of their game. They firstly need to play to their strengths, and do so with the unshakeable conviction demanded of championship-winning teams.

Before this error-strewn, unsatisfactory, though nervously entertaining contest at Brierton Lane, Leicester had the best defensive record in the division having conceded only eight tries. Yet they allowed West to score three times - by some margin the best of the six scored - as tackles were missed, chances squandered and passes dropped against Mark Ring's injury- hit combination of hopeful travellers and inexperienced youngsters.

When Leicester's director of coaching, Bob Dwyer, returns to Welford Road on Thursday having completed his television commitments in Australia, he faces a welter of evidence to support the view that the best his new charges can expect is to make up the numbers while Harlequins, Wasps and perhaps Bath make all the running for top honours.

Leicester may point to the absence of Dean Richards and Martin Johnson. But it was not up front where they were so woeful as along a brittle backline which rarely functions effectively. The Leicester forwards gained two of their touchdowns, one a penalty try awarded when West collapsed a five-metre scrum, the other claimed by the tireless Bill Drake-Lee. Both were converted by John Liley to bring the half-time score to 17-12.

Then Leicester enjoyed a stroke of good fortune which, with Liley's goalkicking, turned the match their way. Almost for want of something better to do, Liley's younger brother Rob dropped for goal. The ball bounced off one upright then the other before falling into Will Greenwood's lap for a gift of a try. Liley's conversion was a formality.

West had their moments. Few were better than the two tries the winger Michael Wood scored - although the second came too late to make any difference to the result - or the centre Stephen John's well-worked try.

West Hartlepool: Tries Wood 2, S John; Conversions C John 2. Leicester: Tries Drake-Lee, Greenwood, penalty try; Conversions J Liley 3; Penalties J Liley 3.

West Hartlepool: M Silva (K Oliphant, 55); M Wood, S John, C John, G Truelove; M Ring (capt), P Harvey; W De Jonge, A Peacock, V Hartland (P Whitelock, 55), D Mitchell, C Hart (A Remus, 40), J Ions, A Brown, A Tate.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, W Greenwood, R Underwood (capt); R Liley, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garfort, N Fletcher, M Poole, J Wells, B Drake-Lee, E Miller.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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