Rugby Union: Stransky scrambles through

Leicester stay on championship course but the fault lines are beginning to show; Leicester 23 Gloucester 16
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THE SUSPICION, which was aroused last week in the match against London Scottish, that Leicester might be going off the boil still lingers. Despite an abundance of quality possession and manifestly superior pack, Leicester failed to dominate as they have done in the past when their forwards and backs worked in unison to such devastating effect.

Part of the reason for this hitch in Leicester's normal service may lie in the form of Joel Stransky. He appears to have lost his confidence and with it the sure touch upon which Leicester rely so heavily. His composure, accuracy and ability to do the right thing at precisely the right time have deserted him, temporarily one hopes, because at his best he is a grand sight, quite apart from being Leicester's driving force.

It was noticeable yesterday that he ceded the goal-kicking duties to Tim Stimpson, who missed with four attempts - two penalties and two conversions.

Try as he might, Stransky was unable to get his line moving as smoothly as he would have liked and Dave Lougheed's two tries in the first half came as the result of the winger's own barging strength and weak Gloucester defending.

Despite possession and territorial advantage Leicester found themselves trailing, albeit briefly, as half-time loomed. This was because of the high quality of Mark Mapletoft's goal-kicking. Not only did he strike the ball with the crispness of a man at the top of his form, but he also he kicked prodigious distances and before rain dampened the surface in the second half, gave the impression that he couldn't miss.

Of the rarer sights at Welford Road, the most noticeable was the retreat of the Leicester forwards at their own line-out five yards from the opposition line, a position from which they would normally back themselves to score. It happened not once but twice. Less surprising perhaps was Austin Healey's volatility under constant pressure from Scott Benton at the base of the Tigers' scrum, which offered little protection and which frequently provoked outbursts of unpleasantries between the opposing scrum- halves.

Leicester were fortunate to finish the first half ahead. Stimpson had kicked a penalty to match Mapletoft's first and was then up-ended by Benton's tap tackle on his way to the line. Lougheed's first try followed Martin Corry's quickly taken penalty and Healey's brisk transfer of the scoring pass. His second followed Jon Stuart's miss-handling in midfield and Steve Ojomoh's lame efforts at a tackle a yard from the Gloucester line.

Leicester raised the pace in the second half and increased the power up front. They were often assisted by Gloucester's carelessness in failing to find touch at crucial times. Stimpson converted his second penalty after Pat Howard's cleverly weighted grubber had turned Gloucester's defence inside out, and from that point on the gaps began to open up in Gloucester's defence with increasing rapidity.

No one profited more than Lougheed, who time and again came in off the left wing to appear at Stransky's right elbow. Invariably he broke through the first tackle and it was only weight of numbers from Gloucester's second wave which held him out and prevented him from getting his hat-trick. But if it wasn't to be Lougheed it had to be somebody and with Gloucester's defence at breaking point the opportunity fell to Stransky, who found a way through to score Leicester's third try, which Stimpson converted.

By now Leicester were in total control and it was as much as Gloucester could do to break free of their own 22. When they did, however, it was to score the best try of the match with a beautifully executed move from a scrummage on the left side. It was good old-fashioned running and passing at speed with pin-point accuracy. Terry Fanolua moved sweetly outside his marker on the right and passed inside for Richard Tombs to score a try which Mapletoft converted from a testing angle. Having dominated so much of the match Leicester now found themselves under pressure and reinforced the belief that they have fallen below the standards they were setting just a couple of weeks ago.

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd, S Potter (C Joiner, 40), P Howard (J Stuart 33-40), D Lougheed; J Stransky, A Healey; D Jelley (G Rowntree, 61), R Cockerill (D West, 67), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden, W Johnson, M Corry, L Moody,

Gloucester: A Lumsden; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs, P St Andre; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Woodman, N McCarthy, A Deacon, D Sims (capt), M Cornwell, E Pearce (A Hazell, 64), S Ojomoh, N Carter.

Referee: A Rowden (RFU).