Rugby Union: Lougheed flys high to ground Gloucester

Leicester 23 Gloucester 16
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IT WAS billed as a Premiership match, but as an advertisement for the quality of the club game in England it was poor fare. At least the Leicester fans among the 11,394 who braved the wintry weather and icy rain which sluiced down for much of the second half would have gone home relieved that the leaders had splashed their way to another two vital points.

Mistakes abounded on both sides. Full-time training means fitness, strength and stamina have improved, but not the skill factor. Some of the passing on both sides was execrable.

Where there was no opponent to distract the recipient then the ball would invariably be spilled or fall into space. Ball retention was the usual lottery. With all the time they now have, it would be natural to expect some of it might be expended on drills to sharpen skills, the square bashing of the game. Perhaps players think it is accepted they can do all the basics. Well, they can't.

Joel Stransky emerged from the muddy mess at Welford Road to say: "Most teams play badly when they lose, but good teams do win when they play badly. But even a good team cannot continue to play badly week-in, week- out, and keep on winning. We have not been playing well for weeks now.

"We have been a bit disrupted by injuries, but that happens. The fact is we haven't been playing scintillating rugby. It's worrying. We know we have to improve. We are certainly not good enough to win the Premiership playing like this."

It was not all bad, not even for Gloucester, with Richard Tombs able to steal a try late in the game. But they have still gone six without an away win.

Leicester were already too far ahead thanks to the Canadian wing Dave Lougheed's two tries. The genial Toronto public school geography and PE master was one of the few to end an indifferent match in credit. His two tries aside, he was worth his inclusion for his support play and work in defence alone.

Yet back in the autumn the 6ft 2in, 15 stone Lougheed found himself on the transfer list after failing to win a first XV place. "I assume they have taken me off the list," he said. "In the fall my form was going up and down for whatever reason. With luck I am over that hump."

It is to be hoped the rest of the Tigers are over theirs as well. They are perfectly capable of winning the Premiership, as they demonstrated against Gloucester. They dominated in almost every phase, save the scrums, where Gloucester looked to have the better of them. But the Tigers had the edge at the line-outs and their quicker thinking backs were always more threatening, in particular Pat Howard, the Australian centre who clearly never feels pain.

The game boiled down to defensive work and Gloucester, while no slouches, just could not contain the Tigers when it mattered. Lougheed's opener came from a penalty when Martin Corry tapped and went.

The Canadian's second was down entirely to a superb effort by Stransky, who scored the third try after the Tigers' captain Martin Johnson drove through from a line-out.

Leicester: Tries Lougheed 2, Stransky; Conversion Stimpson; Penalties Stimpson 2. Gloucester: Try Tombs; Conversion Mapletoft; Penalties Mapletoft 3.

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd, S Potter (C Joiner, 41), P Howard (J Stuart, 34-41), D Lougheed; J Stransky, A Healey; D Jelley (G Rowntree, 63), R Cockerill (D West, 68), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F van Heerden, W Johnson, M Corry, L Moody.

Gloucester: A Lumsden; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, P Saint-Andre; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Woodman, N McCarthy, A Deacon, D Sims (capt), M Cornwell, E Pearce (A Hazell, 67), S Ojomoh, N Carter.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham).