West Hartlepool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
JOHN MURPHY may have struggled to remember who he played against in his two previous league appearances for Leicester - 'Bath, I'm pretty sure, though I can't for the life of me recall the other one' - but it seems certain he will not be quite so delightfully vague over events here. West Hartlepool, meanwhile, will probably want to forget that it was a replacement flanker who did so much to knock holes in their defence.
When Murphy trotted out on the half-hour after Matt Poole had broken a thumb, West may have thought they were in with a fighting chance. Poole's injury meant that Dean Richards had to move up to lock - a positional switch once suggested to him by Geoff Cooke, the former England manager, but one that the No 8 greeted with two fingers - which meant that one very large Tiger with a preference for standing-off had his head buried in the scrums.
West made capital of this by conjuring up some trickery that enabled John Stabler to cut through for a converted try to level the scores 12 minutes into the second half. What they had not reckoned on, however, was Murphy - a law unto himself.
Five minutes after he had emerged, the strapping 28-year-old blind-side found himself at the forefront of a driving maul, which brings out the beast in the Tigers and brought a try for the replacement. The story did not end there, as Murphy helped to break the deadlock by laying on a scoring pass for John Liley and then arriving in support of Richards to plunge over again himself.
When Martin Johnson finished off another forward drive, the Tigers had registered three tries in eight minutes, which left West, conquerors of Wasps and stirred by becoming the first side this season to breach the Tigers' defence in the league, shaken to the core.
'I loved every minute of it,' Murphy said. 'I'm playing better than ever.' Two years ago, he could not devote as much time as he would have wished to training because of the pressures of work. Now he sells brass door fittings, and spent the summer training with Neil Back in a Hinckley gym.
Back has built himself up dramatically on weights and it has worked for Murphy, too, judging by this latest call to arms. And he is a team man through and through and disarmingly charming with it. 'Do you think we can beat Bath?' he asked on Saturday night.
With two-try Murphy on the bench, who knows what might happen when Leicester visit the Rec the weekend after next for the meeting of the unbeaten? The answer to Murphy's question, however, is that Leicester's backs will have to sharpen up their claws if they are to succeed.
Leicester: Tries Murphy 2, Liley, M Johnson; Conversions Liley 2; Penalties Liley 3. West Hartlepool: Try Stabler; Conversion Oliphant; Penalties Oliphant 3.
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 Murphy, 30), J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.
West Hartlepool: K Oliphant; K Whitaker, A Elwine, P Hodder (capt), D Cooke; J Stabler, D Patterson (W Ridley, 73); D Rusby, S Mitchell, M Shelley, J Dixon, K Westgarth, D Mitchell, M Watson, A Brown.
Referee: D McHugh (Cork).Reuse content