Rugby Union: Second impressions

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38

London Irish. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

WHO cares who comes second? So far as these two are concerned it has been a position they have had to live with this season, Leicester destined to finish second to Bath in the league title race and the Irish second from bottom and heading for the Second Division.

Yesterday at Welford Road there was the chance to come first. And there was no doubting who the favourites were, although Leicester are the first to admit their failings. 'A defeat on the opening day at Northampton was always going to be difficult to recover from,' Tony Russ, the Tigers' director of rugby, said, 'and the situation was made even more difficult by our defeat at home to Harlequins.'

Come to that, the Irish made things difficult here, but then, between their Quins' defeat and their loss at Bath a fortnight ago, Leicester acquired such a winning habit that they recorded a club record 18 consecutive victories. Not that the Irish initially appeared terribly impressed.

Quite the reverse, in fact, after a comical start by green- looking visitors who kicked off short and were then penalised at the ensuing scrum. That apart, and much as they had done at Wasps last month in securing a brave win, they gave Leicester a torrid time up front by resisting all the early driving mauls thrown at them.

Better still, bearing in mind they were missing Geoghegan, Saunders and Corcorcan, they got their noses in front in the seventh minute when Steve Cathcart landed a 35-yard penalty off an upright. It was the sort of luck they needed.

Not that it could last, but for quarter of an hour Leicester were made to sweat before Jez Harris popped over the equaliser. The stand-off did not stop there, kicking two more penalties before the break.

From the Tigers' point of view, it was then time to give their supporters rather more to cheer about. Laurance Boyle obliged first with the opening try following a dart by the prop Graham Rowntree and a scoring pass from Tony Underwood. Hackney, Underwood, Potter and Smith then killed off any lingering hopes of Irish survival in the top flight.

Leicester: Tries Boyle, Hackney, Underwood, Potter, Smith; Conversions: Harris 2; Penalties Harris 3. London Irish: Penalty Cathcart.

Leicester: W Kilford (J Hamilton, 63); T Underwood, S Potter, L Boyle (O Wingham, 66), S Hackney; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, P Grant (O Wingham, 13-20), T Smith, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Richardson.

London Irish: J Staples; S Burns, R Henderson, D Curtis, S O'Sullivan; S Cathcart, N Briers; N Donovan, J McFarland, G Halpin, C Hall, A Higgins, C Bird, P Collins (capt), R Jenkins.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).