Rugby Union: Murphy steps in to sink West

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Leicester 33

West Hartlepool 16

SUPERSUBS are sometimes worth their weight in gold, and two tries from John Murphy went a long way towards preserving Leicester's 100 per cent record yesterday at Welford Road, where tenacious West Hartlepool at least had the satisfaction of registering the first try scored against the Tigers in the league this season.

This was only the second meeting between the pair at this level, the Tigers having won two years ago after West had led thanks to a fine try from Owen Evans. This time, it was another wing who fired the visitors up, Simon Cooke put away after some sleight of hand in the thre-quarters and making 35 yards before he was finally snared.

It seemed the Tigers were slumbering, whereas in fact they were just feeling their way into the contest. Niall Malone, who was capped twice by Ireland in 1993, had been brought in at stand-off, for instance, and one hoped he would get this Leicester line moving because it has never been quite the same since Les Cusworth packed away his kit.

But as Tony Russ, Leicester's director of rugby, said: 'There are no easy matches and West Hartlepool's victory against Wasps demonstrates that no one can be underestimated.' At 16 points apiece a dozen minutes into the second half and one began to see that he had a point as West clawed their way back with their finely executed try.

Earlier, though, it had been Leicester who stole the initiative, not through any great dramatics of the free-running kind, it has to be noted. No, three opening penalties from John Liley would do nicely, except that Kevan Oliphant was up to the task of keeping West in contact with a couple of his own.

Still, Leicester at least got their act together - in a forward sense, at any rate. There is plenty of brawn in this department, although you would not have bet on the scorer. Murphy, a flanker, had been sitting on the bench minding his own business before the lock Matt Poole was forced to retire after 30 minutes with a broken thumb.

On came Murphy and, lo and behold, he found himself in possession of the ball five minutes later, and at the sharp end of a typical Tigers' driving maul. Better still, he made it to the line for Liley to convert to give Leicester a 16-6 interval lead.

Anyone who thought West were dead and buried, mind, had to think again once Oliphant landed another penalty and levelled the score by converting a try from John Stabler following some magical scissor- work by Paul Hodder.

As for upsets, West will have to make do with Wasps for the time being, Liley, Murphy again, and Martin Johnson rustling up three tries in eight minutes to keep the Tigers on course for their meeting with Bath at the Rec in a fortnight.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, D Edwards, S Potter, R Underwood; N Malone, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, C Johnson, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.

West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; K Whitaker, A Elwine, P Hodder (capt), D Cooke; J Stabler, D Patterson; D Rusby, S Mitchell, M Shelley, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Mitchell, M Watson, A Brown.

Referee: D McHugh (Cork).