Rugby Union: Stransky shows the gulf

Coventry 14 Leicester 50
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The Independent Online
ONCE UPON a time this would have been a contest in the heavyweight division between two of the most feared sides in England. But as Leicester's fortunes have soared in recent years so Coventry's have gone in the opposite direction and it was a sad reflection on their plight that not even the age-old rivalry, which extends to 206 games, could generate enough interest to fill a ground which is, itself, a faded relic of better days.

Leicester's victory was never in doubt despite their rampant complacency during the first quarter and it was their 100th against Coventry. Not only was it achieved with contemptuous ease but also with a side which, as a result of injury and overwork was well below full strength. However, Leicester have unearthed another couple of gems in their full-back Geordan Murphy and Paul Gustard at No 8, whose lightning acceleration and sustained speed over the longer distances would have put his father, a notable winger in his time, to shame.

Size is not a problem for Coventry, who have a beefy, muscular pack but whose skill with the ball in hand and all-round pace were in short supply. This might be good enough to ensure survival in the second division but it cuts no ice at the higher levels and it was Coventry's inability to find a route through Leicester's blanket defence in the first half which must have forewarned them of their inevitable fate in the second. Despite their extraordinary high error count and their infuriating casualness early in the game, Leicester still found themselves with an unassailable lead at half-time, mainly as a result of their ability to raise the pace as and when they chose.

On every possible occasion Murphy forced his way into the action. Playing in his first cup tie for the club he gave a very good impression of being a hardened veteran. His confidence was as impressive as his mulish kick which propelled the ball huge distances. His drop goal from 45 yards, after Tigger Dawson had miscued a clearance, was still rising as it sailed between the posts.

Neil Back, unsurprisingly, was another who put everything he had into the game, but then he knows no other way and Joel Stransky once again directed the proceedings quite beautifully. He gave another stunning display of the fly-half's art and quite apart from contributing 22 points from four penalties and five conversions his running close to the scrum was a model of vision and timing. It was from his blindside dummy that Leon Lloyd scored Leicester's third try and later in the match he repeated the manoeuvre, this time for Dorian West to score. So frequently with his nimbleness of foot did he outwit Coventry's defence that he drove the opposition flankers to distraction.

Dorian West is another character who sounds as if he should be a writer of detective fiction, but is in fact an impressively mobile hooker. For all I know he may do a spot of writing in his spare time. He certainly had enough of it yesterday, scoring not one try but two. His first came midway through the first half when, with a phalanx of Leicester backs queueing up outside him he decided to go on his own via the infinitely harder route through the middle of Coventry's defence. It was as well for him that he made it to the line.

After Stransky had kicked the first of his four penalties two minutes into the game Coventry settled into their best period of the match. Wayne Kilford, playing against his old club, made a number of lively interventions from full-back and Dawson was alive to every attacking opportunity. A series of frenzied drives by the Coventry forwards eventually paid off when Rob Hardwick lunged for the line, but it was Dawson who made the scoring thrust. Stransky's second penalty briefly took Leicester into a lead they scarcely deserved before Matt Gallagher struck the ball unconvincingly but effectively enough for a drop goal.

After that there was the odd flurry of defiance from Coventry, but it fooled no one, least of all Leicester whose superior craft and speed began to take its toll on Coventry. The Leicester scrum got what they wanted, a penalty try and in injury time Lloyd raced 40 yards for his second try and Leicester's fifth.

Coventry: W Kilford; J Minshull, R Robinson, M Gallagher, A Smallwood; J Brown (J Harris, 64), T Dawson; R Hardwick (capt), D Addleton, V Hartland (B Williams, 73), D Zaltzman, D Duley, L Crofts, I Patten, D Eves.

Leicester: G Murphy; M Horak, J Overend, A Leeds, L Lloyd; J Stransky, A Healey; P Freshwater (D Jelley, 60), D West, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden, L Moody, P Gustard, N Back.

Referee: D Chapman (Yorkshire).

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