Rugby Union: Johnson pays the penalty

Cup quarter-finals: Lock watches from sin-bin as Leicester's double dream is shattered; Richmond 15 Leicester 13
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The Independent Online
A RIVETING, pulsating Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter-final tie that had everything, heroes, villains and a touch of romance. It culminated in Richmond reaching the semi-final stage of the competition for the first time, but only just.

The heroes were the players on both sides who gave their all to a thrilling afternoon's entertainment. The villains were the people who stayed away and robbed the ground of a record attendance for rugby.

Richmond would not have cared. The victory was ample compensation for having allowed Leicester to complete a league double over them this season. There was a moment, during the half-time interlude when the prescient might have scented a home win. Leicester's mascot, a tiger, was made to race against Richmond's own little effigy, a lion. Richie the Lion won, by a whisker. So it was in the real competition.

Both packs gave their all. Behind the scrum Richmond had an edge, although Leicester had the pace. Up front the Richmond forwards earned their money against one of the best eights in the country.

The public address announcer made more noise than the disappointing crowd at Reading's Madejski Stadium. Richmond had talked up the match beforehand, predicting a record-breaking 10,000 plus; what they actually got was a paltry 7,008.

Thankfully, on the pitch there was less hype, more action. Richmond had come off the worse in each of the previous two matches that the clubs have contested this season in the Allied Dunbar Premiership, but on those occasions the Tigers had included their first-choice half-backs Austin Healey and Joel Stransky.

Yesterday both players were reduced to helpless spectators, Healey because he is serving a 21-day ban and Stransky because of a knee injury. They were joined for an unscheduled spell of 10 minutes during the first half by the Tigers captain, Martin Johnson.

He was dispatched to the sin-bin by referee Steve Lander after stepping over Agustin Pichot and preventing the Richmond scrum-half from getting his hands on the ball. Those 10 minutes proved critical and Richmond took advantage of Johnson's enforced absence.

They opted for a series of draining scrummages as the Leicester seven struggled just a few metres from their line and on the fifth Ben Clarke picked up off the back and rumbled through for a try, converted by Earl Va'a.

When Richmond won a close range line-out and flanker Adam Vander and hooker Barry Williams combined for a second try, Johnson was still sidelined. When he returned to the fray, the best of the action was almost over and so was the first half.

The tie flared up early in the second half when Craig Quinnell was shown a white card by referee Lander, following consultation with one of his touch judges, for an alleged punch. Unfortunately for Mr Lander, one of three full-time professional referees employed by the Rugby Football Union, television replays subsequently showed that Quinnell was completely innocent.

As a result of the subsequent line-out Leicester were able to close the gap on their opponents when Neil Back went over for a try. Tim Stimpson failed with the conversion and his miss was compounded when Va'a then thumped over a touchline penalty kick.

But the Tigers were beginning to click and they strung together a stunning counter-attack midway through the half which tested Richmond's defensive qualities to the full.

Unrelenting pressure from Leicester's forwards finally produced its reward when Richmond won a scrum close to their line. Clarke picked up and Robbie Hutton took it off him only to spill the ball when tackled by Back and Martin Corry swooped, scooped and plunged over. Stimpson's conversion pinged the left hand upright to leave Tigers a tantalising two points adrift.

It was desperate after that. Leicester were given glimpses through the keyhole, but somehow the door stayed closed.

Richmond: M Pini; N Walne, J Wright, M Dixon, S Brown; E Va'a, A Pichot; D McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton, C Quinnell, C Gillies, R Hutton, B Clarke (capt), A Vander.

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd (N Ezulike, 10), C Joiner, J Stuart, D Lougheed; P Howard, J Hamilton; G Rowntree (D Jelley, 61), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F van Heerden, L Moody (P Gustard, 58), M Corry, N Back.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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