Rugby Union: Tigers kings of the jungle

Gloucester 18 Leicester 23
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CONTEMPLATING Gloucester and Leicester at Kingsholm usually prompts a Reggie Perrin mother-in-law moment of hippos wallowing in the mud in the mind's eye. The mud was largely absent but the beasts bearing one to eight on their backs fought mightily for mastery of the jungle.

Given that the only two previous winners here in 1998, Wasps and Newcastle, are also the last two league champion clubs, Leicester's win could be a revealing omen. Certainly it moved them two points clear at the top of the Premiership, with Northampton playing today.

For the first 15 minutes, the respective forwards were chasing the game as each side worked a try in the furthest reaches of the field. Geordan Murphy, who Leicester shifted to outside-half in the continuing absence of the injured Joel Stransky, punted towards the corner and winger Dave Lougheed won a shoulder-to- shoulder barge with Brian Johnson to claim the score.

Johnson soon made amends, the Gloucester winger rounding off an expansive cross-field move to level things up.

The Johnson & Johnson tale then took a nasty turn and it wasn't baby oil that Leicester and England's Martin was dishing out in a ruck. A meaty right-hander cost Johnson 10 minutes in the sin-bin but the only score in his absence went Leicester's way, a sign of their determination all afternoon. Illegal use of the boot by Mark Cornwell in one of a series of niggling exchanges gave Tim Stimpson a shot at the posts. The full- back struck a post but Gloucester then went off-side at a Leicester line- out and Stimpson kicked over from shorter range.

Martin Johnson returned and was quickly involved as Gloucester collapsed a scrum and Stimpson potted another three points. Brian Johnson trudged off injured but his replacement Mark Mapletoft was to have a big influence on the hour or so that remained.

After a missed penalty by Simon Mannix, the Gloucester skipper Richard Tombs tossed the kicking tee to Mapletoft. The new man's first attempt struck an upright but when the pressure was on Mapletoft again in first- half injury-time, he did not disappoint.

The scenes were even more joyous when Mapletoft stole into the right- hand corner for Gloucester's second try three minutes into the second half, after some sleight of hand from Mannix. Mapletoft converted for a 15-11 lead.

At times like this championship credentials are severely tested. Leicester were not found wanting, and had the game's two class acts in Neil Back and Martin Corry. Three times Back cut dangerous opponents in half with tackles and Corry's fitness right to the end was something to behold.

The frantic exchanges continued at pace but with Stimpson's boot knocking over two penalties in the last four minutes Leicester were home.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson (M Mapletoft, 35), T Fanolua, R Tombs (capt), P Saint-Andre; S Mannix, I Sanders (S Benton, 62); T Window, C Fortey, A Deacon (A Powles, 64), R Fidler, M Cornwell (D Sims, 64), K Jones, S Ojomoh, N Carter.

Leicester: T Stimpson; D Lougheed, S Potter, P Howard, L Lloyd; G Murphy, A Healey; G Rowntree (D Jelley, 70), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F van Heerden, P Gustard, M Corry, N Back.

Referee: N Williams (Neath).