Biggs' charge has Tigers on run in tonic for Leeds survival hopes

Leeds 23 Leicester 22
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The Independent Online

When Leicester first lost a Premiership game at Headingley, back in 2001, they put it down to misfortune. There followed a second pratfall, which looked like carelessness, and then a third, which smacked of stupidity. Yesterday, the table-topping Midlanders fielded what might be described as the Full Monty - Martin Johnson, Martin Corry, Neil Back, Julian White, Austin Healey, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all - and ended up on their backsides yet again. At the risk of landing himself with a solicitor's letter, a hardened cynic might suspect a conspiracy.

When Leicester first lost a Premiership game at Headingley, back in 2001, they put it down to misfortune. There followed a second pratfall, which looked like carelessness, and then a third, which smacked of stupidity. Yesterday, the table-topping Midlanders fielded what might be described as the Full Monty - Martin Johnson, Martin Corry, Neil Back, Julian White, Austin Healey, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all - and ended up on their backsides yet again. At the risk of landing himself with a solicitor's letter, a hardened cynic might suspect a conspiracy.

That cynic would be seriously wrong. If Leicester were not striving with might and main for a victory yesterday, the likes of Johnson and Healey must be actors in the Gielgud class. The former worked himself into a right old lather - at one stage during a thoroughly fractious contest, he jabbed his out-sized forefinger in the direction of the referee, Sean Davey, in a manner that made Mike Gatting's infamous cricketing argument with Shakoor Rana look like a loving peck on the cheek - while his ever-talkative colleague ended the game bellowing in Davey's ear. They were not sweet nothings, either. Sour everythings, more like.

The upshot? Fun and games for the rest of the campaign, at both ends of the table. Leicester are a mere four points ahead of Wasps with three games left, and with the two due to meet at Welford Road in the last round of matches, the long-time leaders may yet be denied an automatic place in the Premiership final.

Leeds, on the other hand, have made up significant ground on the weekend's major losers, Worcester and London Irish, and can see the whites of their opponents' shorts as they attempt to chase them down. Relegation is a stone-cold certainty this year, and quite rightly so. But relegation for whom?

Should Leeds continue to summon the furies, their chances of survival will not be as remote as the rest of the Premiership blithely imagined three days ago. Magnificently led from the second row by Stuart Hooper, a big favourite of the legendary All Black tough-nut Wayne Shelford during his formative years at Saracens and now a hit with the hard-bitten Yorkshire cognoscenti, the home forwards picked fights for a pastime and won more than their fair share of them. Needless to say, Mark Regan was at the epicentre of the conflagration - the hooker may no longer play for his country, but he can still annoy for England - and there were similarly gung-ho contributions from Richard Parks, that dashing back-rower from the Welsh valleys, and his two countrymen, Scott Morgan and Alix Popham.

The tone was set early - from the kick-off, as a matter of fact - and when Johnson, Corry, White, Hooper and Regan laid into each other at the first line-out, the officials knew they were in for a long afternoon. White was packed off to the sin-bin for his part in the dust-up, which was a very decent effort, considering he had played only two minutes of rugby since early February. He might have been joined by any number of his fellow combatants, but for reasons best known to himself, the much put-upon Mr Davey kept his cards to himself thereafter.

Phil Davies, the Leeds coach, made light of whatever excesses his side may have committed - partly because Leicester were every bit as indisciplined, partly because it had been a "whatever it takes" kind of occasion.

"I asked them before the game to remember the last time they had come off the field feeling good about themselves, feeling proud enough to look each other in the eye," he said.

Leeds emerged the better from the first-half shenanigans, reaching the interval 15-9 to the good thanks to five penalties from Gordon Ross, whose kicking from the tee was a whole lot better than his kicking from hand. The Yorkshiremen might have scored two tries as well, but David Rees was reeled in by Geordan Murphy after being freed down the left by the impressive Chris Bell, while Andre Snyman butchered an even more clear-cut opportunity shortly before the break. The big South African swatted Healey away as though he were an irritating insect, but then sought support with the line at his mercy and saw Phil Christophers hauled down by Corry.

This largesse might have cost them. Andy Goode, so confident with his goal-kicking that he scarcely looked capable of missing, opened the second period with a penalty and then converted an overlap try from Leon Lloyd - the one time the Leicester backs made a proper mess of the Leeds defensive system. The visitors had a threatening air about them now, and had the next score gone their way, they would probably have disappeared into the wide blue yonder.

It did not go their way, though. Young Tom Biggs, a 20-year-old full-back who would not have been playing had Iain Balshaw been fit, suddenly set sail for the Leicester line from a central position some 50 metres out and reached the right corner going away, beating both Harry Ellis and the floundering Murphy in a blur of pace, poise and panache.

Eight years previously, John Bentley had ignited the Lions' tour of South Africa with a similarly pulsating try in Johannesburg. Now working out of Headingley as a community development manager, Bentley watched Biggs' sprint to glory, brushed away a tear and whispered: "The lad has no fear. I love him."

Ross promptly banged over his sixth penalty to open up a four-point gap and although Goode narrowed it to one and might have pinched it at the death with a right-sided kick at goal, Leeds held their nerve to close out the game. All they need now is two more wins. Unlikely, but not impossible.

Leeds: Try Biggs; Penalties Ross 6. Leicester: Try Lloyd; Conversion Goode; Penalties Goode 4; Drop goal Goode.

Leeds: T Biggs; A Snyman, P Christophers (D Albanese, 58), C Bell, D Rees; G Ross, A Dickens (M McMillan, 58); M Shelley, M Regan, G Kerr (M Holt, 78), S Hooper (capt), T Palmer, S Morgan (J Dunbar, 50), R Parks, A Popham.

Leicester: G Murphy; L Lloyd, O Smith (A Tuilagi, 60), D Gibson, A Healey; A Goode, H Ellis (S Bemand, 80); D Morris, G Chuter, J White, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon, W Johnson (M Holford, 4-13; L Moody, 49), N Back (H Tuilagi, 65), M Corry (Moody, 21-30).

Referee: S Davey (Berkshire).

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