WHILE EVERYONE has been raving about all the overseas stars who have been on show during the recent Rugby World Cup a couple of English- qualified youngsters have been making a big impression in the Allied Dunbar Premiership.
Leicester have unearthed - or rather their manager, Dean Richards, has signed - two gems in the stand-off Andy Goode and scrum-half James Grindal.
They were among the rare highlights in a dour and, at times, desperate game on Saturday that was stapled together with penalties. The teenage Tigers managed to lift the mood enough to maintain the interest of the 10,000-plus crowd at a damp Welford Road.
They look good together, displaying a thorough understanding of each other's game - no surprise really, since they have been playing alongside each other since they were at primary school and they are now 19.
"We have been best mates since we were seven," Goode said. "We have played together at every level. We went to the same school, King Henry VIII in Coventry, we played for the same junior club together. We have grown up together. We know each other's games inside out now.
"In games like this where the defence is so tight, having played with each other for so long is an advantage. He knows where I'll be, when to hit me, where to hit me - we just communicate all the time."
Goode is single minded about his own career path. He has been playing the game since he was five, has represented England Schools and England Colts, reckons Leicester is the best club in the country and has taken a year off PE studies at Loughborough University, "to see how far I can get in rugby".
The answer to that should be a long way, maybe all the way to the top.
Already he is analytical enough and sharp enough to have attempted a drop goal in the blink of an eye shortly after the interval. It just did not get over the bar.
"The drop goal did not have the legs," he explained, "but I thought it worked for Jannie de Beer in the World Cup against England and Wasps's defence is quite similar to England's so I thought I would have a go. Unfortunately I did not hit it as well as I would have liked."
He did pretty much everything else well though. If the occasional kick from hand did not follow quite the intended path, no matter. He showed a fine footballing brain, seeming invariably to take the right option, in the manner of someone far more senior than his years. All this was courtesy of some superlative service from Grindal, another schoolboy international, inside him.
Richards said: "Right now, if everyone were fit Goode would still be my first-choice fly-half. The pair of them have a huge amount of potential. Whether they play for England or not is entirely in their hands."
Even Nigel Melville, the Wasps director of rugby, was impressed with them, which was more than he was with his own men. "Too many basic errors. Too many penalties.
"We spent the last week talking it all through after the previous match and they went out and did the same things again. I have told them they will have to sort it out before the European Cup tie against Llanelli next week. And it will be sorted by then, believe me. Right now though, none of the starting fifteen is a first-choice player. And if they think they are they can think again."
Neither side will want a repeat of this match. Even given the conditions which did not help handling, these are professional, full-time players, they should be masters of all conditions. The penalty count approached 40, unacceptably high at this level.
Perhaps the referee, Ed Morrison, one of the best in the business, was a trifle too quick to blow up at times, a trifle too pernickety with players not staying on their feet, but much of the blame has to rest with players on both sides, who if they were not infringing, were knocking on, dropping the ball, mis-kicking. You name it, they perpetrated it.
The Tigers' full-back Tim Stimpson did have a fine day in defence and with the boot. At one point he looked on target to improve on Thierry Lacroix's record of nine penalties set the previous week. In the end he had to settle for seven out of eight before converting the only try of the match, by Neil Back from a line-out - the habitual launch pad for the flanker's tries.
The Wasps kicker, Kenny Logan, would have settled for five out of five. His match tally of three out of five did little to keep his side in touch. Wasps certainly had their chances but spilled ball, careless passes and downright naivety did for them.
Back's try, the Tigers halfbacks and two immense defensive performances, as well as a string of muscle-wrenching scrums throughout were the best points of an otherwise forgettable match. Maybe Europe will offer up something better.
Leicester: Try Back; Conversion Stimpson; Penalties Stimpson 7. Wasps: Penalties Logan 3.
Leicester: T Stimpson; G Murphy, W Greenwood, P Howard (C Joiner, 76), D Lougheed; A Goode, J Grindal; D Jelley (G Rowntree, 60), D West (R Cockerill, 60), D Garforth (P Freshwater, 76), M Johnson (capt), J Welborn, P Gustard, M Corry (A Balding 39-41), N Back.
Wasps: J Lewsey; P Sampson (J Ufton, 67), F Waters, M Denney (R Henderson, 73), K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy (A Le Chevalier, 73), T Leota (D Macer, 66), W Green, A Reed, S Shaw, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), P Volley (P Scrivener, 64).
Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).Reuse content