Rugby Union: Theatrical feast ended by Greening's late try

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Gloucester 32 Leicester 30

Super 12? Who needs it? If two of England's greatest rugby cities can lay on a theatrical feast of this magnitude, the theory that the game in the northern hemisphere remains light years behind the superpower spectaculars down south loses most, if not all, of its credibility.

When Phil Greening, the England hooker, burrowed his way over the Leicester line six minutes into injury time for last night's winning try, beautifully converted by Mark Mapletoft, he put the tin lid on a mighty encounter that lifted the spirits as well as the Kingsholm roof.

That late try left Leicester's title ambitions more exposed than at any time since Christmas - they are now three points behind the leaders, Wasps, with one game in hand and a wickedly difficult trip to Bath to come on Saturday. The Tigers will be bitterly disappointed, especially after breaking away with first-half tries from Craig Joiner and John Liley. But Gloucester, desperately unlucky not to beat the Midlanders in a Pilkington Cup semi- final 11 days ago, are a dangerous outfit when their pride has taken that sort of blow.

As an argument in favour of the merits of professionalism, the first few impassioned minutes of another highly charged encounter were simply irrefutable. Under the old amateur regime, players would have found it impossible to perform at such a gallop at so late a stage in a campaign - especially one so unforgiving as this.

From the kick-off, the Leicester forwards tore into their equally motivated opponents, twisting and churning their way through the heavy traffic to set up a fourth-minute penalty opener for Stransky. Gloucester had barely laid a hand on the ball.

But if the Midlanders' big name acts have yet to reach the end of their tether in the physical sense, one or two nerves are beginning to fray. Martin Johnson, captain of the Lions this summer despite his short fuse, unleashed a flurry of right-handers at Rob Fidler following a dangerous short-side scuttle from Mapletoft. After a headmasterly lecture to the England lock from Gareth Hughes, the little stand-off goaled the equaliser.

That, though, was red rag to a bull for Stransky, who promptly put the Tigers in the box seat with two flashes of outside-half wizardry. First, he outstripped Andy Deacon's futile attempt at a cover tackle to ease Joiner in under the posts and then finished off a one-two of Sugar Ray Leonard proportions by wriggling clear a second time to allow Steve Hackney the space to create Liley's score in the right corner.

Liley, a maligned figure at Leicester these days, restored another hefty chunk of lost reputation by producing a try-saving tackle on Lumsden on 27 minutes. Yet Gloucester might been all square at the interval. Mapletoft added two more penalties but missed a brace of further opportunities.

To their credit, the home side turned those negatives into positives and, for the first 20 minutes of an epic second half, the Cherry and White forwards were irresistible. Mapletoft kicked two more three-pointers, Lumsden streaked into the distance for a 50-metre try and even though Aadel Kardooni's close-range try, a vintage effort from Rory Underwood and Stransky's almost unerring boot gave the visitors transfusions of hope, the Kingsholm passion play proved too much for them at the death.

Gloucester: A Lumsden; M Peters, C Emmerson, M Roberts, E Anderson; M Mapletoft, S Benton; A Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), A Stanley, S Devereux, N Carter.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, N Malone, C Joiner, L Lloyd; J Stransky, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, E Miller, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester).