Rugby Union: Harris follows Hare to the letter

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The Independent Online
Leicester . .21

Bristol. . . .9

RUGBY was not designed to be played in a wind-tunnel filled with sleet. Yet in this battle of the alphabets - these being the last sides in England to carry letters on their shirts - the most resourceful play came when Leicester were launched into the teeth of the weather. Not that it brought tries. Leicester have now gone three matches without crossing their opponents' lines. They simply gained ground before the ball went loose or the backs moved into a tackle, and in the rucks and mauls the infringements followed.

So Leicester won with comfort - but also with a good deal of frustration - by seven penalties to four, which at least enabled Jez Harris to beat Dusty Hare's record of six in a league game.

Although they confirmed their second place in the top division by giving Bath their only defeat three weeks ago, Leicester still have to rely on others to close the gap. To do them any good, two more clubs will have to beat Bath. It is a frustrating situation, but yesterday they played as though they had convinced themselves that the title was not the only point of the season. This season anyway.

They faced the icy wind from the start, and still managed to win the first half by not letting it intimidate them. They might reasonably have kept the ball close before it was whipped from their hands. Instead they moved it along the line. Not very fluently, it has to be said, but it created the pressure which, by half-time, brought three penalty goals by Harris to set against by his opposite letter, Mark Tainton. This followed one of the few mob- handed attacks by Bristol, who had offered little adventure to compare with the Tigers' hunt for an opening.

Apparently in a slightly perverse act of god, the wind dropped and the skies cleared in the few minutes it took the sides to change ends. So instead of reaping the whirlwind, they found themselves temporarily becalmed, and for the first time surrendered the initiative to Bristol. Tainton and Harris exchanged a further couple of penalties - the latter after Leicester had switched to the siege warfare tactics of two prolonged rolling mauls close to the Bristol line.

Then, at the other end of the field, Bristol suddenly remembered the potential of their backs, and spun the ball twice the width of the field. Typically, however, this yielded no more than a further penalty for Tainton. And although this narrowed Leicester's lead to three points, Harris extended it once more with his last three kicks at goal. The electronic scoreboard orchestrated the chanting of 'Tigers, Tigers', but by then they were back in their lairs and their claws had long been sheathed.

Leicester: Penalties Harris 7. Bristol: Penalties Tainton 3.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, R Underwood, S Potter, T Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Bristol: P Hull; D John, A Saverimutto, R Knibbs, S Crossland; M Tainton, M Newall; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, P Adams, J Pearson, R Armstrong, D Eves (capt).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).