Rugby Union: Persuasive Johnson

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . . . .27

Oxford University. .15

THE RELEVANCE of matches with the leading universities is considered questionable by some senior clubs and slight by others. But enlightened Leicester see things differently, welcoming the chance to test players who get few first-team chances against opponents with plenty to play for in the build-up to the Varsity match.

Apart from the talent on show, this was a useful stage for the England B lock Martin Johnson to ease himself back after a shoulder operation and persuade the Midlands' selectors to include him in their side to face South Africa at Welford Road in two weeks' time. Johnson probably earned his place, but before then his rehabilitation will have been taken a step further at London Scottish on Saturday.

The Students made a crisp start, winning the first three line-outs, and when Leicester strayed offside outside-half Niall Malone landed a simple penalty.

But within 10 minutes the home team were ahead. The Oxford forwards were having gravitational problems at the tackle and fullback Wayne Kilford accepted his first two penalty chances, judging the tricky wind to perfection.

It looked as if the Leicester pack's roll off a line-out had been thwarted. But somehow the ball was smuggled to scrum-half Darren Grewcock who fed Steve Hackney on the short side for a neat try. Kilford converted and at 13-3, Leicester had taken control.

They maintained it for another 20 minutes, but almost paid for some sloppy control when allowing Malone a 70-metre kick and chase which the Irishman, showing exceptional pace, almost won. Malone's second penalty was poor reward for that pressure. When Leicester next created a similar position, the students were trapped under their posts. Almost inevitably, the ball went loose and Johnson scooped it up to barge through what fragile cover remained. Kilford compounded Oxford's embarrassment with a straightforward conversion.

Malone then tested the home rearguard with several jinking runs. But eventually it was his right boot which stretched Leicester's nerves, kicking three more penalties to keep the issue in doubt until injury time when Darren Eagland's try and Kilford's third conversion settled it.

Scorers: Leicester: Tries Hackney, Johnson, Eagland; Conversions Kilford 3; Penalties Kilford 2. Oxford University: Penalties Malone 5.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, J Evans, S Wills, R Underwood (capt); J Harris, D Grewcock; D Eagland, R Wareham, W Richardson, M Johnson, P Grant, N Martin, M Grant, W Drake-Lee. Replacement: B Brier for Grant, 77.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY: M Joy (Marling GS; Keble); R Sennett (Terse; St Edmund Hall), K Street (King Edward VIII, Coventry; Christ Church); T Watson (Radley; St Edmund Hall), D Spence (St Andrew's, Grahamstown, South Africa; Keble); N Malone (Methodist Coll, Belfast; Keble), S du Toit (Paul Roos Gymnasium, South Africa; Christ Church); I Buckett (Holywell HS; University), M Humphreys (Methodist Coll, Belfast; Brasenose), A McConville (The Armidale School, Australia; St Anne's), J Daniell (Eton; St Catherine's), P Coveney (Clongowes Wood School, Dublin; Templeton), A Bridgwood (Cheltenham Coll; Keble), C Keey (Harrow; Keble; capt), B O'Mahony (Presentation Brothers, Cork; Keble). Replacements: A Williams (Fishguard CS; St Anne's) for Buckett, 39; D Currie (RGS High Wycombe; Templeton) for O'Mahony, 64.

Referee: S C Griffiths (North Midlands).

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