Rugby Union: Tigers in their element

Leicester 26 Bedford 0
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The Independent Online
THE GREAT leveller. Bedford's chief hope clearly depended on the weather at Welford Road but not even shooting rain and slanting wind could limit the damage inflicted on them by England's leading club.

Bedford were simply powerless to hold the combined weight and power of the Leicester pack and in conditions survivable only by the forwards, it certainly helps when your pack is palpably superior. Twice in the first half in classic Leicester style their forwards drove over the Bedford line for tries accredited to Neil Back and Richard Cockerill. The omens were not good for Bedford as early as the second minute when Leicester charged up-field from the kick-off stretching Bedford's resources to the limit. They staved off the try but conceded a penalty which Tim Stimpson converted.

The fact that Bedford then spent the next quarter of an hour lodged in the Leicester half and in that period succeeded in mounting a number of promising attacks, even managing on occasions to bring their wings, Rory Underwood and Darragh O'Mahony into meaningful action, was merely stalling the inevitable.

Bedford's pack strove mightily but they could never generate sufficient momentum to break Leicester's impenetrable front-line defence. There was the odd grubber kick to the corners which exposed Stimpson's cumbersome movement in front of the rolling ball but by and large the Tigers' defence were untroubled.

Bedford were not helped at this crucial stage by the inability of their hooker Jimmy Richards to strike up a rapport with his line-out jumpers - a task which was admittedly made all the harder by the swirling wind. On at least four occasions, though, Bedford squandered good possession by Richards's poor throwing in, and against opponents of this calibre such profligacy was inexcusable and costly.

Retribution came swiftly. From an attack launched by what appeared suspiciously like a forward pass from Austin Healey, Pat Howard was obstructed by his opposite number Dan Harris and Stimpson kicked his second penalty. This appeared to knock the stuffing out of Bedford, who failed at any stage of the match thereafter to re-establish their authority.

The day was made for the forwards and the Leicester pack went to work. Healey set them up with a well-measured penalty kick to touch five metres from the Bedford line. In these circumstances the home crowd know what to expect and so did Bedford, but on this occasion forewarning did not help forearm them. Their line-out was scattered across their line as the Tigers' pack crashed over for the try. Although Healey emerged triumphantly with the ball, it was Back who claimed the try.

The second try was almost an exact replica of the first, except that it was scored on the other side of the field and it was Cockerill who touched down, a minute into injury time at the end of the first half.

The second half was one long grind in the clawing mud for Bedford. They spent most of it penned inside their own half in pursuit of the Leicester ball carriers. It was a thankless task and they received precious little thanks from Leicester for their pains. Stimpson kicked his third penalty before the Leicester forwards once again set up base camp with a line- out inside the Bedford 22. Bedford braced themselves for the frontal assault which they felt sure must follow. Instead, however, Leicester cleared the ball with all possible haste to Healey and David Lougheed charged through Bedford's ill-prepared midfield to score the try which Stimpson converted. In a last defiant but futile act of aggression, Bedford's backs and forwards combined to tear a number of holes in Leicester's hitherto solid defence. But there was still no way through to the line.

Leicester: T Stimpson; L Lloyd (M Horak, 66 min), S Potter, P Howard (J Stuart, 45 min), D Lougheed; G Murphy, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth (D Jelley, 66 min), M Johnson (capt), F van Heerden (N Fletcher, 69 min), P Gustard, M Corry (A Balding, 72 min), N Back.

Bedford: B Whetstone; R Underwood, A Murdoch (capt), D Harris (J Ewans, 52 min), D O'Mahony; T Yapp, R Elliott; A Ozdemir, J Richards, V Hartland (C Boyd, 40 min), J Beardshaw (J Cockle, 57 min), S Murray, R Winters, J Paramore, J Forster.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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