Rugby Union: Reliable Harris is key man

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . . .28

Northampton. . . .15

NOT only did Leicester successfully reverse the result of last season's opening league match against the same opponents but, save for the final quarter, when they inexplicably relaxed to give Northampton the window of an opportunity, they played with such dash, determination and grim purpose that, even at this early stage in the season, it is possible to predict a bright future for them.

Once they can find a midfield to plug into the raw energy generated by their overpoweringly physical forwards they will be very nearly without blemish. It is difficult to imagine a more lively and committed front five anywhere in England and even without Neil Back yesterday their back row flew effortlessly in the slipstream of their tight forwards.

Furthermore, in Jed Harris they have the most reliable and consistent of goal-kickers, his haul yesterday being 18 points from six penalties. There were, however, two major flaws in their game against Northampton. Their midfield backs have neither the speed nor the guile to cope with a such a flat alignment in attack and when the situation cried out for the long pass to obviate the threat from Northampton's defence, they were unable to deliver it.

Their muddled meanderings sorely tested the patience and understanding of two neglected wings, Tony Underwood and Steve Hackney, who, on the rare occasions when they received the ball, produced some electrifying running. Twice in the first half Hackney had the crowd on its feet, first when Leicester pilfered ruck ball inside their 22 and from Harris's pass Hackney sped fully 60 yards before impaling himself on Ian Hunter's tackle. The next time, however, he scored after Leicester had succeeded in working the ball clear of a static maul, not strictly permissible these days, and Diccon Edwards's long pass was snapped up by Hackney for the try.

Leicester's other weakness was the number of occasions they squandered the massive advantage gained by their front row at the scrums and, for so much of the game, by Martin Johnson in the line-out with acts of senseless and very often unsubtle skulduggery. All of it was picked up by the fastidious Mr Spreadbury to the obvious displeasure of the home support.

This enabled Paul Grayson to keep Northampton in touch for most of the game. He kicked five penalties, one of them from just inside his own half. Crucially however he missed with three kicks, one of them in the last five minutes from in front of the posts. Nevertheless he is a deadly accurate kicker. Alas it is one thing to know how to kick a ball but something else to understand rugby and at present he has little else to offer.

The Northampton scrummage should be stiffened by the imminent arrival of Martin Hines, the former Orrell prop, but if they want to discover just how far they have to travel to compete with the best they need look no further than Leicester who finished in the grand manner with a spectacular try in the corner by Tony Underwood.

Leicester: W Kilford, S Hackney, D Edwards, S Putter, T Underwood, J Harris, A Kardooni, G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, W Drake-Lee, D Richards (capt).

Northampton: I Hunter, H Thorneycroft, N Beale, R MacNaughton, C Moir, P Grayson, B Taylor, M Vollands, P Roworth, C Allen, M Bayfield, N Edwards, P Walton, B Poutney, T Rodber (capt).

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).