Rugby Union: Tigers relax as Hackney downs Barbarians

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The Independent Online

Leicester 51 Barbarians 25

Whatever the virtue in these professional times of Welford Road's annual festive fixture, if yesterday's 78th staging has persuaded Leicester to liberate themselves from the grunt and grind that characterises their league rugby, it will have performed an invaluable seasonal service.

The Tigers have been earning poor reviews for - as they properly see it - playing to their strengths, though the criticism has had as much to do with the persistence with which their coaches talk of playing it otherwise. How much they will read into such a match is a moot point, partly for the very reason that there were no league points at stake, and partly because in actual fact Leicester established a winning platform by their customary method.

This involved dominance at forward before dominance in the backs - precisely how they would prefer to go about their rugby in the First Division. The problem is the opposition which, unlike the more accommodating Baa-Baas, does not readily fall in with the Tigers' intentions.

So, as it wore on, yesterday's game altered drastically from the curiously close-quarters beginnings in which Dean Richards performed in perfect accordance with his image as Leicester's version of the dragoman, guiding them through whatever vicissitudes attended them, mostly by the simple means of sticking out one of those giant paws of his.

For a while penalties were exchanged and the Barbarians not only scored the first try - Rudolf Straeuli creating the position for Rudolph Berek by bludgeon rather than rapier - but also led 13-11 at half-time, even after Leicester's own account had been opened by Rory Underwood.

For the Baa-Baas that was more or less that, the tries by Straeuli and Wayne Proctor that concluded matters coming only once the Tigers had amassed 40 unanswered points in 30 minutes, commencing with an emblematic score by Aadel Kardooni at the end of an all-too-typical forward drive.

This, though, was the signal for care's casting-aside. Whether Leicester will feel the urge, or the need, to do likewise against Sale on Saturday will be a fascination, but once the Barbarians had suffered their softening- up Leicester's familiar inhibition was gone.

Steve Hackney scored two tries in two minutes which persuaded the England selector Les Cusworth, an eminent ex-Tiger, to make him man ofthe match. Richards received the loudest acclaim for his try and Leicester took themselves to a half-century and equal to their highest score in this fixture when Underwood and Neil Back followed.

It was also their fourth win in succession over the Barbarians, and if that sequence, and growing restrictions on Barbarian selection, have led some to question the validity of both the Christmas games specifically and the famous invitation club generally, that is not how Leicester - or, for that matter, the Barbarians' committee - see it.

On the contrary, Leicester went to great lengths to ensure the match was staged, keeping the pitch covered and calling on volunteer labour to assist in clearing snow yesterday morning. As for the Barbarians, their future has been secured by yesterday's three-year extension to Scottish Amicable's sponsorship, taking them to May 1999.

Leicester: Tries Underwood 2, Hackney 2, Kardooni, Richards, Back; Conversions Harris 5; Penalties Harris 2. Barbarians: Tries Berek, Straeuli, Proctor; Conversions King 2; Penalties King 2.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, P Delaney, R Robinson, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, P Grant, M Poole, C Tarbuck, D Richards (capt), N Back.

BARBARIANS: J Thomas (Llanelli); D Lougheed (Toronto Welsh), L Davies (Neath), G Shiel (Melrose), W Proctor (Llanelli); A King (Bristol University), A Gomarsall (Wasps); M Mika (Otago University), B Reidy (Marist St Patrick's), D Laperne, R Berek (Dax), G Prosser (Pontypridd), P Walton (Newcastle), R Straeuli (Transvaal), I Morrison (London Scottish, capt).

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).