Rugby Union: Tigers earning their stripes

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . .38

London Irish. . .3

SO, after the hard league slog and a second-place finish, it will have to be the cup that cheers Leicester, which is considerably better than nothing. The Tigers' tail, though, is twitching, their long-term ambitions stretching far beyond mere retention of their Pilkington trophy in next month's final.

Casting envious eyes towards the West, it is Bath they wish to emulate. Sure, victory at Twickenham over their rivals would be something, but it is the winter's sheer Courage consistency of the perennial champions that Leicester would prefer to a springtime London showing.

While others would be more than satisfied with such a lot, Leicester do not agree. Nor do they want Bath's form to fade. 'We want to be able to overhaul them fair and square,' Tony Russ, the Tigers director of rugby, said, 'while they are an outstanding force.'

Leicester are coming closer to achieving their goal. After all, they did beat Bath in the league at Welford Road last November. But then a fortnight ago, the physically superior giants had their way at a muddy Rec, a loss that left Russ looking towards the heavens and cursing Leicester's ill luck.

'It was disappointing to say the least,' he said, 'that the so-called league decider was played in such awful conditions. The match was reduced to a lottery and the try which Bath scored was really evidence of this.'

All of which left Leicester to go through the motions on Saturday - a hollow victory for them, perhaps, but one nevertheless that finally sent poor London Irish back to the Second Division.

But then let us look on the bright side. While Russ accepts that Bath just about deserved their success a fortnight ago to level this season's series between the two, it will be different in the Twickenham decider.

'For one thing,' he said, 'I am fairly certain that the weather will be more to our liking and absolutely positive that the ground conditions will allow us to play much more as we would like to be able to do.'

Fingers crossed, Leicester will be at full strength, a situation that goes beyond the sort of minor injuries that saw Wayne Kilford and Laurance Boyle leave the pitch after the last of five second-half tries had been run in against the Irish, who had battled bravely up to the break and turned around just six points adrift.

It had been rumoured that Neil Back, recovering from a broken thumb and omitted from England's summer tour party for South Africa, had lost all further interest in this season.

'He did go through a patch of depression,' Russ admitted, 'but he has come out of it now. The plaster will be removed this week and mentally and physically we expect him to be fighting fit for Twickenham.'

All of which leaves just a final word from Russ. 'Bath are a great side, but we are never more dangerous than when we have a defeat to avenge.'

Leicester: Tries Boyle, Hackney, Underwood, Potter, Smith; Conversions: Harris 2; Penalties Harris 3. London Irish: Penalty Cathcart.

Leicester: W Kilford (J Hamilton, 63); T Underwood, S Potter, L Boyle (O Wingham, 66), S Hackney; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, P Grant (Wingham, 13-20), T Smith, J Wells, D Richards (capt), N Richardson.

London Irish: J Staples; S Burns, R Henderson, D Curtis, S O'Sullivan; S Cathcart, N Briers; N Donovan, J McFarland, G Halpin, C Hall, A Higgins, C Bird, P Collins (capt), R Jenkins.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).