Rugby Union: Leicester lean on Liley

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The Independent Online
Leicester 22

Orrell 3

THE all-too-familiar pattern was unfolding: a tryless first half in which 17 penalties were awarded, five of them converted into points. John Liley had kicked four for Leicester to Orrell's one by Simon Morris which was if nothing else an accurate reflection on the play. Either the crime rate among players is spiralling out of control or referees are exercising an unwholesome influence on the play. A plague on both their houses.

Yet neither side could be faulted for its intent to play open rugby, and in brief passages both were successful. It was clear by the end of the first half that Leicester would win, and equally certain that through the remorseless impetus generated by Leicester's forwards the Orrell defence would eventually crumble. But it took 69 minutes before the collapse.

Up until that point Orrell's line held, albeit by the slenderest of threads. One glorious cover tackle by Austin Healey on the speeding Steve Hackney was as spectacular as any scything midfield break. In the absence of the retired Dewi Morris, Healey has been pressed into service at scrum-half, and if ever his hands work with the same speed as his legs he will be a world-beater.

If Orrell had the greater burden of defensive chores, they seldom took their eye off the chance to attack. Ever masters of using limited resources, they caused several flutters in their opponents' breasts, and one first- half tackle by Ian Bates on Jeff Huxley a yard from Leicester's line came very close to matching Healey's effort.

In the line-out too Orrell were pragmatically effective, and if they weren't able to find a lasting solution to the insurmountable problem of how to by-pass Martin Johnson, they did at least ensure that they were not obliterated in this crucial area.

Even with limited possession their backs ran at speed and with purpose, their moves being given additional width by Mason, a full-back who has represented Ireland at Under-21 level. He still has much to learn, but at least the basic ingredients are in place.

Leicester, despite their win, are not the dominant force of last season. They were missing Dean Richards yesterday, of course, and both Underwoods, the latest in the ever-lengthening list of names linked to Newcastle. Yet they are still packing in the crowds - almost 11,000 yesterday - and when, 11 minutes from the end, Hackney raced over in the corner after Liley had cleverly drawn the cover, they no doubt felt the afternoon had been worthwhile. The overriding impression, however, is of amateurs adrift in a professional game.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, I Bates, A McAdam; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, C Johnson, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells (capt), N Back, C Tarbuck.

Orrell: S Mason; J Naylor, I Wynn, P Johnson (capt), G Smith; P Hamer, A Healey; P Winstanley, A Moffatt, P Mitchell, S Bibby, C Cooper, J Huxley, S Hayter, P Manley.

Referee: J Pearson (RFU).