Rugby Union: Tigers escape at the death

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The Independent Online
Leicester 33

Gloucester 16

It wasn't quite like it was meant to be. High powered Leicester, with a six-man core of Lions and a galaxy of foreign stars, were supposed to flatten Gloucester. Instead, the sleek Tigers bumped up against a gritty West Country defence that kept the game tied until the final minutes.

Time and again when the super-charged Leicester machine seemed to be working efficiently, Gloucester put their spanner in the works. Leicester only broke the 16-16 deadlock with 10 minutes to spare when Joel Stransky kicked his fourth penalty. The gates had finally opened and Will Greenwood roared up the centre to cross before Neil Back wrestled a ball down in a maul shunted over the Gloucester line. Both tries were converted by Stransky to make the margin respectable. Earlier, his South African compatriot, the young, promising full-back Michael Horak, had scored Leicester's other try.

But much of the honour must go to Gloucester for their collective defiant spirit. Phil Greening impressed at hooker and Chris Catling excelled at full-back. The French captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, displayed a passion worthy of someone born within sight of Kingsholm.

With Leicester apparently in control in the first half and building up a tidy margin, the West Country side pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, tackling everything the Tigers presented. Gloucester conjured a try when the Western Samoan centre Terry Fanolua half-broke a tackle deep in Leicester territory before slipping the ball to the outside half Mark Mapletoft who strode over. Mapletoft monopolised the Gloucester scoring, converting his own try as well as kicking a couple of penalties and a dropped goal.

At the end the question marks were left over a Leicester side who did not live up to the class indicated on the team sheet. The Tigers had a method and a clinical approach reminiscent of the Lions, but they did not always have the fire and passion that is needed to beat classier sides than Gloucester.

There were hints of the story at the end of last season. Then, though, the defence from Leicester's coach Bob Dwyer was that the old guard had to be changed. That has been done and if Leicester do not improve on most of yesterday's display, some pretty basic contractual questions may be asked.

On the upside for the Tigers, some of the imports looked highly impressive. Dwyer had called the Fijian wing Waisale Serevi a "genius" before yesterday's game. He displayed occasional hints of it, jinking out of apparently impossible corners and showing an imagination as he splayed the ball wide across the field. Horak at full-back showed huge promise and an experience that belied his 20 years. Inside him, Austin Healey continued his growth, displaying an urgency that helped get Leicester off the hook. In professional rugby, teams live or die by results. Yesterday, Leicester got the result though not in the manner their star billing promised.

Leicester: M Horak; W Serevi, W Greenwood, S Potter, C Joiner; J Stransky, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole, M Corry, E Miller, N Back.

Gloucester: C Catling; R Saint-Andre, T Fanolua, R Tombs, P Saint-Andre; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, M Cornwell, P Glanville (capt), S Devereaux, N Carter.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).