Rugby Union: Tigers back to basics

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Leicester 16

Wasps 6

FOR ENGLAND read Leicester, for Leicester read the Allied Dunbar Premiership champions of 1999. The Tigers have five more league matches but they went into this torrid affair with an eight-point lead at the top of the table and it is inconceivable that they can now be caught.

Following the accord in Paris, Leicester can also look forward to a return to Europe, although whether Europe will be looking forward to that prospect with much enthusiasm is debatable.

Thankfully conditions at Welford Road yesterday were perfect, for who knows what it would have been like had it been played in a mud bath. As it was, it looked like the rugby equivalent of trench warfare.

More than 12,000 people paid good money to watch this - isn't there a B&Q in Leicester? - but once the club had replaced the Australian visionary Bob Dwyer with the local hero Dean Richards, they made it patently clear that the name of the game is winning and nobody is better at it than the Tigers.

Leicester won by a goal and three penalties to a penalty and a drop goal and in the process established a record for their longest unbeaten home run. This was their 17th game without defeat at Welford Road (they last lost at this fortress to Newcastle in 1997) but it was desperate stuff. "I suppose a lot of people would view it as a boring game and I wouldn't dispute that, but we were depleted in the backs," Richards said. He added that Leicester's contingent of England internationals were feeling the pace of a heavy duty season at club and international level.

In their relentless drive to the top of the Premiership, Leicester have scored 97 tries this season. On this evidence the 100th could be a long time coming. They had to wait until the 80th minute for the only try of the match.

At that point Leicester were vulnerable, holding just a three-point advantage. However, Wasps conceded a penalty on the Leicester 22 and Geordan Murphy, the understudy for the injured Joel Stransky, found touch near the Wasps 22. Leicester, of course, won the line-out, set up a rolling maul and suddenly Neil Back broke free from the sumo wrestling to score from 15 yards. It was about the only occasion an individual found daylight in the match.

The first half was like a throwback to the bad old days: two penalties to a penalty and a drop goal. There was no uninhibited attempt to create a try, rather they relied on defensive errors in the hope of getting a reward.

Some hope, with the Premiership's two best defences comfortably dealing with what little pressure was exerted. It took Leicester 26 minutes to employ their favourite weapon, the rolling maul, to good effect and the result was a penalty which Tim Stimpson kicked.

Four minutes later, Wasps managed to mount an attack for long enough to commit the Leicester defence fully and allow Alex King time to drop a comfortable goal.

Wasps, probably deservedly on the balance of what little play there was, went ahead in the 37th minute when Kenny Logan, with his first kick at goal, landed a penalty. The lead was short lived. Two minutes later Martyn Wood put up a high kick - he did so throughout the afternoon - which was dropped, uncharacteristically, by Dave Lougheed. The referee Ed Morrison, ruling that the Wasps threequarters had been offside, took play back to in front of their posts where Stimpson kicked the penalty to make it 6- 6 at half-time.

Four minutes into the second half Wasps conceded another penalty, plus another 10 yards for disputing the decision, and Stimpson was on target for the third time to put Leicester ahead.

Logan was off target with a reasonably easy penalty attempt and Stimpson with one from two yards inside his own half before Leicester created the first worthwhile chance of the match in the 62nd minute. After breaching the heart of the Wasps defence with their forward power, Lougheed was given a chance on the left wing but was denied at the corner.

Leicester then employed their second favourite form of attack, the push- over scrum. Wasps were forced to dig in at five successive scrums and, after being penalised twice, seemed certain to concede a penalty try when referee Morrison, with 12,000 voices baying for his blood, instead penalised Darren Garforth for slipping his binding. If nothing else, it confirmed the courage of Morrison's conviction.

Wasps, who have a cup semi-final next weekend, have never won a league match at Welford Road and they may never have a better opportunity. The sting, though, was in the Tigers' tail.

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd (N Ezulike, 70), C Joiner, P Howard, D Lougheed; G Murphy, J Hamilton; G Rowntree (D Jelley, 62), R Cockerill (D West, 62), D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F Van Heerden, L Moody, M Corry, N Back.

Wasps: G Rees; P Sampson, F Waters, M Denney, K Logan; A King, M Wood; D Molloy, T Leota, W Green, M Weedon (capt), S Shaw (A Reed, 62), J Worsley, P Scrivener, L Dallaglio.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).