Rugby Union: Tigers need to burn brighter than bright: Keeping the pressure on Bath in the Courage league brings pressure all of its own. Steve Bale reports

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The Independent Online
AFTER the All Blacks, it is back to the more mundane reality of league rugby. Leicester may have done everyone in the First Division a favour by pulling the plug on Bath a fortnight ago, but for the leaders to be caught will need more of the same from not just one but at least two other opponents.

As most of the sides at the rarefied end of the Courage Clubs' Championship reach the half-way stage with this afternoon's programme, Bath are cushioned by more than two league points; their points difference (+116) is no fewer than 62 better than the best of the rest.

Which, predictably, happens to be Leicester, their closest pursuers and only conquerors. No wonder Tony Russ, the Tigers coaching director, sighed when he said: 'Someone needed to beat them and I'm happy it was us but now someone has to do it again and - because of their points difference - again.'

So Leicester, having summoned up the necessary prodigious effort to beat Bath (whose scalp is so coveted that they have to play with this intensity week-in week-out), could not dwell on their triumph. They had to dust themselves down and start all over again at London Irish last Saturday and must do the same today against Bristol at Welford Road.

For Leicester, beating Bath is not enough. Having lost to Northampton and Harlequins, they have to beat everyone else, too, because they know that Bath seldom slip up and surely will not against the likes of London Irish, Leicester's victims last week and Bath's visitors today.

In all of this Leicester are only too pleased to follow the splendid Bath example. 'Ten years ago they put a plan into action and they are bearing the fruits of that long-term planning,' Russ said. 'Their systems work, they are well coached and well managed. That's the bedrock of my job at Leicester: not to coach the team itself but organise the club on proper lines so success can follow.'

Last season's Pilkington Cup win was, we are told, but a beginning. 'This Leicester team is very, very talented but occasionally prone to inconsistency; hence our defeats,' Russ said. 'This is part of the process of developing the team, because you don't just suddenly click. We know we're capable of beating anyone because that's exactly what we've done but we are also capable of performances that fall below the standards you need to set in a very competitive First Division in which you cannot afford to drop off the pace.'

So Bath beware: Leicester have them in their sights, just as Harlequins do after complaining that Troy Coker's eye was gouged while they were losing at home to Bath last week. The Tigers persist with Rory Underwood, capped for England 61 times on the wing, at centre for the injured Ian Bates. Next week Laurence Boyle, the Oxford Blue, will become available.

'It's by no means perfect but it's not too bad,' Russ said. 'Rory is learning the position with enthusiasm and admits he doesn't fully understand it. We haven't yet been punished for the experiment but I don't think there's a long-term future in it.'

As for Bath, Stuart Barnes rests his troublesome knee in preparation for next weekend's cup tie against Wasps. The versatile Mike Catt switches to No 10. Wasps have Chris Oti and Damian Hopley back in their threequarters at home to Orrell.

It is worthy of note that, while Wasps lie third five points behind Bath, they are also only three above the second relegation position, with Newcastle Gosforth already more or less doomed to return whence they just came. As those three points also cover Quins, Orrell, Bristol, Northampton, Gloucester and the Irish, the dogfight starts here.

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