Rugby Union: Tigers close on Bath's trail: Newcastle put to flight

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .66

Newcastle Gosforth. . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

SO MUCH for the view that the league title race was all over bar the shouting. What is certain is that Leicester have given themselves a real chance of being in with a shout of catching Bath when they visit the Rec on 9 April after their 10-try demolition of Newcastle Gosforth.

While still two points adrift of the champions, they had begun the afternoon 49 points worse off on points difference. With that now reduced to four, the Tigers scent blood and, if they need any more incentive, then they will head for the Georgian city remembering they have already outscored Bath once this season, when the pair met in the reverse fixture before Christmas.

Leicester knew on Saturday that they had to begin piling on the points and Newcastle, destined for the drop, were the fall guys. Even so, the visitors have proved sticky opponents, bearing in mind three of their defeats this year have been by less than half a dozen points. All that was about to change, however.

With more than 10,000 to cheer them on, Leicester proceeded rapidly to a record league win and, needless to say, to inflict a record league defeat on the struggling travellers. Two tries in the opening four minutes from Steve Hackney set the tone and when Tony Underwood, also scoring twice in four minutes, and Neil Back continued to make inroads, Newcastle were 34 points adrift in 34 minutes.

If the wind had been in the right direction, you imagined that the roars greeting each sortie might well have drifted all the way to Bath. All Newcastle could do was attempt to slow things down and in this respect the old campaigner, David Johnson, could not be faulted, although even his lengthy boot- cleaning activities before each place kick failed to do the trick.

Still, at least Newcastle managed a try before the break through Ross Wilkinson, which in these circumstances represented a considerable achievement. Normal business was then resumed, Underwood the main beneficiary when bringing his try count up to a league record- equalling four in a match.

All of which tended to detract from the reappearance of Dean Richards after an absence of two months. Looking fit and playing a full part in helping to devour the opposing pack, the only thing missing from a personal point of view was a try to mark his return. Not that Richards was bothered. 'Yes, the elbow is fine and I'm just pleased with the team's performance,' the captain said.

Now all he wants after a shot at Wales is to remain fit for a dip at Bath, though as Tony Russ, Leicester's director of rugby, said: 'If we lose there, of course, it will all be over.' But at least these Tigers look as if they can give the best from the west a decent run for the spoils.

Leicester: Tries Underwood 4, Hackney 2, Back 2, Rowntree, Robinson; Conversions: Harris 5; Penalties Harris 2. Newcastle Gosforth: Try Wilkinson.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, L Boyle (N Malone, 47), R Robinson, T Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, T Smith, M Poole, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Newcastle Gosforth: I Chandler; D Casado, R Wilkinson, M Tetlow, T Penn; D Johnson (capt), S Douglas; M Fraser, A Hetherington, P Vanzandvleit, R Metcalfe, F Mitchell, R Arnold, M Corry, R Hoole.

Referee: S Lander (Irby, Wirral).