Rugby Union: Johnson shoulders aside Richmond

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The Independent Online
Richmond 11 Leicester 23

MARTIN JOHNSON made his 200th appearance for Leicester last night and marked the occasion with his ninth try, a statistic that proves beyond question that those poor cave-dwellers forced to spend their sporting careers with their shoulders resting on the buttocks of their front-row colleagues rarely get to breathe the clean air of the sunlit uplands. Still, England's finest lock forward in a generation will happily settle for very occasional moments of glory if they always give his clubmates such a priceless advantage in the race for the Premiership.

Leicester are now two points clear of Northampton, their most pressing rivals, and six points ahead of the pack. Richmond, on the other hand, have the look of also-rans after last night's defeat in Reading and, to make matters worse, they lost their implacably confrontational lock, Craig Quinnell, with what looked a serious leg injury. Ironically, his departure paved the way for his opposite number's game-breaking try on 50 minutes.

Rugby's administrators have spent so much time fighting there has long ceased to be any reason why players should behave like saints. Last night, the game's active participants decided to have some fun by taking the hostilities on to the field. The opening exchanges were studded, literally, with flashpoints as the fists and boots flew at scrum and ruck.

Quinnell received the first ear-wigging for a contretemps with Graham Rowntree and, in fairness, the Welshman had it coming after giving Martin Corry all manner of grief on the floor just seconds earlier. The next bout involved Robbie Hutton, sent off at Gloucester less than a fortnight ago, and Darren Garforth - a nasty little spat on the floor put them both in the sin-bin - and it took 22 minutes for Joel Stransky and Dave Lougheed to break the stranglehold and conjure something resembling an opportunity for Leon Lloyd on the right wing.

Tim Stimpson and Earl Va'a had slotted a penalty apiece by that time, although Stimpson missed two gimmes that were a confident goal-kicker's equivalent of an 18-inch putt. Those failures merely galvanised the rest of the Tigers back division, however; Craig Joiner's lateral run into the eye of the storm on 31 minutes led to some quickly recycled possession and Pat Howard found a sublime pass out of the tackle to put Lougheed in at the left corner. Another penalty for each side left the Premiership leaders 11-6 up at the interval.

Ten minutes into the second half, it was 18-6 and game over. Stransky's skittish run down the left touchline gave the visitors field position for a perfect back peel that sent Martin Johnson dummying over near the posts while Derek Jelley, the replacement prop, claimed a more prosaic score from a driving maul to wrap up proceedings. Richmond could only point to a Nick Walne try in the right corner as a consolation.

Richmond: Try Walne; Penalties Va'a 2. Leicester: Tries Lougheed, M Johnson, Jelley; Conversion Stransky; Penalties Stimpson 2.

Richmond: M Pini; N Walne, A Bateman, M Deane (M Dixon, 65), S Brown; E Va'a, A Pichot; D McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton, C Quinnell (B Cusack, 42), C Gillies, R Hutton, B Clarke (capt), A Vander (L Cabannes, 65).

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd, C Joiner, P Howard, D Lougheed; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree (D Jelley, 72), R Cockerill (D West, 72), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden, W Johnson, M Corry, L Moody.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).