Black day for Saints as White excels up front

Leicester 32 - Northampton 13
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The Independent Online

There will be a good deal of talk about young Ross Broadfoot, who can expect plenty of Premiership activity over the coming months, and even more chatter about the older but far from geriatric Harry Ellis, who can expect an England cap this autumn now that the World Cup-winning Matthew Dawson has discovered television. Leicester's half-backs pressed all the right buttons in the first of this season's East Midlands derbies to send the Tigers zooming up-table from their launch pad at Welford Road - more Cape Fear than Cape Canaveral, given the intimidating presence of Martin Johnson, but no less impressive for that.

The pretty boys outside the pack are not, however, the ones who decide who wins what in this game; they merely stipulate the margin separating the victors from the vanquished. If any single figure dominated this match, it was a man of serious stature and considerable circumference: Julian White, the most formidable scrummager in Premiership rugby, a prop forward of such iron strength that he could anchor an ocean-going liner. If the Northampton front row, blessed with a century of caps between them, ever see him again, they will be tempted to make their excuses and join a monastery.

White has a face only a mother could love, although he occasionally summons an expression of chorister-like innocence when a referee decides he is up to no good in the darkened recesses, and not even members of his immediate family would claim that he always operates at the optimum. Sometimes, his fitness levels fall off; all too frequently, he loses himself in a crimson mist of his own creation; occasionally, he appears less than interested. But when he is tuned in, heaven help his direct opponents.

On Saturday, that opponent was Tom Smith, a double Lion and one of the more durable loose-head specialists of his generation. He is a crafty beggar, as the mountainous Springboks discovered to their cost and confusion against the 1997 Lions, yet here Smith found himself off the field, tail between legs, inside an hour, having been dismantled and discombobulated by the 31-year-old Devonian. It was a sight for sore English eyes, not least those belonging to Phil Larder, the red rose army's defensive coach, who was present to cast an eye over potential runners and riders for the November internationals at Twickenham.

As there is no obvious prospect of Phil Vickery fronting up for Gloucester any time soon - England's first-choice tight-head is slowly reacquainting himself with the evils of training after undergoing surgery on his back - White is a dead cert for his country's meeting with Canada in a month and a half's time. Just ask John Wells, the Leicester coach. Wells is not one of life's natural romantics, but he could have kissed his prop full on the lips on Saturday.

"Julian was outstanding," he said, choosing a word long assumed to have been banished from his vocabulary. "He is not just a scrummager, either. Ninety-five per cent of his game is centred on the set-piece, but he is capable of so much more. People assume he can't carry the ball in open field or do the clever little things at close quarters, but he bloody well can. We'll be coming up against some good scrummaging packs over the next month or so, and then you'll see what's what. To my mind, he's right up there with the best."

Ellis and Broadfoot would be among the first to agree with their coach. With Larder peering down from on high, Ellis must have been a bag of nerves before a game considered to be the most significant of his career to date. With the best part of 17,000 people in the ground, Broadfoot can only have felt worse still. This was the teenager's first start at Premiership level, and with the former Springbok captain Corne Krige in full warpaint in the Northampton back row, there was every chance he would find himself orthopaedically challenged sooner rather than later.

As it turned out, neither Krige nor Andrew Blowers, inexplicably cast among the replacements but introduced the moment the Leicester tide reached full flood, could get within hurting distance. White's domination of the scrummage put the southern hemisphere flankers on the back foot and kept them there. Largely as a result of his efforts, the combative Ellis was able to create an opening try for Austin Healey with a blind-side snipe that turned into a 50-metre gallop, and then clatter through Darren Fox for a score of his own. Similarly, Broadfoot found himself in the lap of luxury. He had time to kick, time to jink, time to throw pinpoint cut-out passes to all and sundry. The boy had himself a ball, in more ways than one.

Not to be outdone, Johnson found his way to the sin bin for the second game running - this time for fighting with Damien Browne, his opposite number. "Johnno only has to stand there to be yellow-carded these days," objected Wells, who suspected Browne may have been the aggressor. There was another fight in the closing seconds, this one starring Alex Tuilagi, who was also sent to the cooler. Johnson seemed far angrier about this incident, possibly because peace had broken out by the time he arrived at the scene.

If Ellis was eager to follow his captain into whatever fray might be going - "Harry is a fighter; he'll always mix it if there's anything flying around," confirmed his coach, approvingly - Broadfoot kept the hell out of it and concentrated on his rugby. "It took me 10 minutes to get over the 'wow' factor, but I felt at home from then on," the newcomer said. This, of course, is what comes from spending the afternoon in rugby's equivalent of an armchair.

Leicester: Tries Healey, Back, Ellis, Rabeni; Conversions Broadfoot 3; Penalties Broadfoot 2. Northampton: Try Human; Conversion Drahm; Penalties Drahm 2.

Leicester: G Murphy (R Warren, 7-20 & 75); A Healey (A Tuilagi, 79), O Smith (J Holtby, 62), D Gibson, S Rabeni; R Broadfoot, H Ellis; G Rowntree, G Chuter (J Buckland, 72), J White, M Johnson (capt), B Kay (L Deacon, 72), B Deacon, W Johnson (H Tuilagi, 72), N Back.

Northampton: B Reihana; J Rudd (W Human, 54), M Tucker, M Stcherbina, B Cohen; S Drahm, J Howard; T Smith (C Budgen, 57), S Thompson, R Kempson, S Boome (M Lord, 15), D Browne, D Fox, G Seely (A Blowers, 54), C Krige (capt).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).