Rugby Union: Leonard longing for a rest after a match too far

Leicester 27 Harlequins 3
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The Independent Online
A bone-weary Jason Leonard was a perfect example of the English rugby's malaise at the moment - over-playing - as he dragged himself out of the visitors' dressing-room at Welford Road taking with him yet more bumps and bruises, leaving behind memories of an abysmal defeat in a dour match.

"It's the end of a long eight weeks," groaned the Harlequins and England prop, "and in very basic terms I think my body needs a rest. But with games coming up thick and fast you cannot always recover from previous knocks. At the moment I've got everything including flu, I'm just glad there isn't any bubonic plague around or, knowing my luck, I'd catch that as well."

Leonard, who is the most capped prop in the world with 62 appearances including three Tests for the Lions, is relieved that at least the clubs seem to have adopted a more understanding stance with their international players.

Like his England colleagues Leonard has just played four high-pressure Tests against the best in the world, training unremittingly to match the fitness of the southern hemisphere sides. But there has been no respite. On the back of England's brilliant but draining second Test against New Zealand have come three demanding games for Quins, culminating in Saturday's drab affair, deservedly won by Leicester Tigers thanks to some superlative work by their powerful pack, notably at the line-out where South African lock Fritz Van Heerden was exemplary, while Martin Corry filled the No 8 role, played for so long by the Leicester legend Dean Richards, with distinction.

But it looked for many other players like a match too far and it left Leonard concluding: "For sheer intensity the last two months of club and international matches compares with the 1995 World Cup. In fact, it has probably been harder because the game has changed in that short time since South Africa. It is faster, harder, the hits [tackles] are bigger. And throughout this period we have been expected to remain at our peak.

"While that is good for rugby and up to a point for the players, you still need a rest. Thankfully I think the clubs are listening to players and are being very good. They have been talking about adopting a squad system and that has to become an integral part of the game. If a player is rested it gives someone else a chance."

At Leicester however no one created a chance and Leicester took enough of theirs to record an emphatic win and maintain an unbeaten record at home, which stretches back to April this year when they lost to - Harlequins.

Leicester: Tries penalty try, Greenwood, Back; Conversions Serevi 2, Horak; Penalties Horak, Serevi. Harlequins: Penalty Lacroix.

Leicester: A Leeds; C Joiner, W Greenwood (J Overend, 75), S Potter, M Horak; W Serevi, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden, L Moody (P Gustard, 59), N Back, M Corry (D West, 80).

Harlequins: J Williams; D O'Leary (R Liley, 30), J Keyter, J Ngauamo, L Belligoi; T Lacroix, N Walshe (H Harries, 46); J Leonard, T Billups, A Mullins, G Llewellyn (L Cabannes, 59), R Strudwick, B Davison, R Jenkins, A Leach.

Referee: J Pearson (Yarmouth)

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