Rugby Union / Pilkington Cup: Travellers' joy for Leicester: Nottingham are blown away

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The Independent Online
Nottingham. . .3

Leicester. . .28

SMALL wonder Leicester folk consider Twickenham home from home and, while Bath, the holders, are already conveniently out of the way, HQ beckons again for the club whose list of away days in the Cup brings a whole new meaning to luck of the draw. Which means today it would come as no surprise if the Tigers learned that they would be heading down the road again in next month's quarter-finals.

But who is complaining? Leicester's last Pilkington bash at Welford Road was in January two years ago when they were buzzed by Wasps. Better then to join in a chorus of the one about packing up your troubles in the old kit bag if Saturday's visit to Beeston was anything to go by.

Tigers long in the tooth, though, recall a different day. It was in 1971, the inaugural year of the competition, that Leicester were dispatched in the first round at Nottingham, hardly surprising under the circumstances. 'We played them on the Sunday after fielding the same team against New Brighton the previous afternoon,' Bleddyn Jones, who now broadcasts match commentaries on the Tigers, said.

'We thought it would be a pushover and afterwards Chalky White, who was then coaching us, had to be physically restrained from entering our dressing-rooms. I'm quite sure he would have murdered one or two of us.' Jones can see the funny side of things now and so, too, can Dusty Hare, whose life in the game has described a circular route. Hare, later to join the Tigers, was facing Jones and company that day and remembers it well. 'There was a slow wing-forward playing for Leicester at the time by the name of Chris Baynes,' Hare said. 'He then came to Nottingham and is now Midlands' Under-21 coach.'

As for Hare, whose farewell appearance for the Tigers came against Bath in the 1989 final, he has had the Beeston calling in the paid role of director of rugby. But there was no happy pay-off line this time. 'If Leicester take a grip early on then obviously they'll come out winners.' And Hare's pre-match prediction came home to roost.

There was a howling gale favouring Nottingham in the first half, but they could make precious little use of it other than a penalty from Guy Gregory. Leicester, meanwhile, weathered the storm, grateful that Simon Hodgkinson has hung up his goal-kicking boots since helping England to their 1991 Grand Slam.

John Liley set the ball rolling with a penalty and he landed another once Rory Underwood had scored on the left. From an 11-3 lead against the wind, what would the Tigers make of it after the break? Two tries in four minutes was the answer, Neil Back prospering at the end of a 25-yard driving maul and then Tony Underwood taking a leaf out of his brother's book. So much for hair of the dog and the bald fact remains that Nottingham have beaten their Midland rivals only twice in 22 years.

Nottingham: Penalty Gregory. Leicester: Tries R Underwood, Back, T Underwood; Conversions Liley 2; Penalties Liley 3.

Nottingham: S Hodgkinson; R Byrom, R Bygrave, A Furley, M Walker; G Gregory, B Gabriel; M Freer, D West, A Jackson, C Gray (capt), D Hindmarch, G Rees, P Cook, M Pepper.

Leicester: J Liley; R Underwood, I Bates, S Potter, T Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells (capt), D Richards, N Back.

Referee: G Davies (Liverpool).