RUGBY UNION: Leicester on fast-track to success

Leicester 34 Glasgow Caledonians 21
Click to follow
The Independent Online
FOR SOME seasons Leicester has been England's finest finishing school. Play for the Tigers and, so long as you are suitably qualified, you are on the way to playing for England. Austin Healey, Neil Back, Graham Rowntree, Richard Cockerill, Will Greenwood, Darren Garforth and Martin Johnson have all trodden that well-worn path. So has Martin Corry, who moved from Bristol to further his international ambitions; as did Newcastle's Tim Stimpson.

But Leicester's injury list is so long that Welford Road is more like a fast-track academy these days, and youngsters such as Ben Kay, Adam Balding, Andy Goode, Geordan Murphy, Lewis Moody, Paul Gustard and Nnamdi Ezulike are exposed to the unfamiliarity and higher temperature of European Cup rugby sooner than their coach, Dean Richards, would probably prefer.

Though, as Richards acknowledges: "There is only one way to learn about this standard of rugby, and that's to play in it. Sure we would be better with a few more-experienced heads around. But for the time being, we shall just have to get along without them as best we can."

In the first match against Glasgow Caledonians, at McDiarmid Park, Perth, last Sunday, the young heads were found wanting. Leicester did stage an impressive fightback, being at one stage 24-0 adrift, but they were still beaten 30-17. Richards' response to that setback was to make seven changes, plus two positional, for the return game. Although it meant dropping his British Lions' centre, Greenwood, and moving Healey to outside-half, it seemed to do the trick.

If Tommy Hayes had been able to transfer his authority from the first game, and maintain it for more than the opening 40 minutes of this one, or if James Craig had not been denied a second try by the alertness of Balding, it may have been different. But as the intensity increased it was the Tigers who showed the greater composure and hunger. Caledonians competed to the last, with Gordon Bulloch scoring a late try, but second- half tries by Dave Lougheed and Healey, with Stimpson adding a conversion and four penalties, was too much for the Scots.

So Pool One is locked solid with all four teams on equal points. It leaves Caledonians and Leicester with little margin for error, if either of them are to qualify for the knock-out stages of the tournament - especially as they both have to play the group favourites, Stade Francais, next month. Leicester face the harder task, having to travel to Paris. Even if Richards is unable to get all his senior troops back for that one, there are encouraging signs that some of his fast trackers will have graduated by then.

Leicester: Tries Healey, Lougheed, Back. Conversions Stimpson 2. Penalties Stimpson 5.

Glasgow: Tries G Bulloch, Craig. Conversion Hayes. Penalties Hayes 3.

Leicester: T Stimpson; N Ezulike (G Murphy 77), S Potter (C Joiner 72), P Howard, D Lougheed; A Healey (A Goode 72), J Hamilton; P Freshwater (D Jelley 66), D West, G Rowntree (K Fourie 77), M Corry, B Kay, L Moody, N Back (Capt. P Gustard 63), A Balding.

Glasgow: G Metcalfe; J Craig (I McInroy h-t), A Bulloch, J Stuart, S Longstaff; T Hayes, A Nicol (Capt); D Hilton, G Bulloch, G McIlwham, S Campbell, J White, G Simpson, D McFadyen, R Reid (J Petrie 72).

Referee: R Davies (Wales).