The next time Leicester play a big Heineken Cup game at the Millennium Stadium, the Celts will picket the place. Four seasons ago, the Tigers' flanker Neil Back diddled Munster out of a potential title-winning score in the final by sticking his hand in a place it had no right to be and escaping without so much as a referee's word in the ear. Yesterday another back-rower, Louis Deacon, did something equally illicit -not quite as cynical perhaps, but thoroughly dodgy all the same - and denied Cardiff Blues what would almost certainly have proved a decisive try. If rules are there to be broken, the Midlanders take to them with a baseball bat.
Leicester were 18-17 up at the last knockings when Ben Kay, who had played a highly effective role in reducing the Blues' line-out to a small pile of dust, paid the price for thinking too quickly - second-row forwards really shouldn't bother with the cerebral stuff - by being penalised for offside. Nicky Robinson hammered the ball to within seven metres of the line, his forwards inched their way towards the five points they craved with a series of rolling mauls... and then it happened. As Gethin Jenkins bent down to gather the ball for one last effort, Deacon toe-poked the ball away while laying on the Cardiff side of the ruck. Had the referee, Alan Lewis, witnessed it, Deacon would have been carded into oblivion. Lewis did not witness it. Instead, he gave a knock-on against Jenkins.
This priceless piece of luck allowed the visitors to take play to a less fretful part of the field, from where Sam Vesty topped and tailed it by dropping a goal. Given the dire situation surrounding the England full-back position, the red rose coaches could do themselves a favour by picking the 24-year-old for one, or indeed all, of the forthcoming autumn internationals. Terrific under the high ball and confident in contact, Vesty has more than a touch of the Matt Perrys about him. As Perry was the most dependable English No 15 of the professional era, there are worse role models.
Quite who Gary Powell modelled himself on is anyone's guess. One of the Kray twins, perhaps? Powell's decision to aim a butt at the Leicester hooker George Chuter smack in front of two of the three on-field officials was spectacularly stupid, for it earned him an immediate red card and left his side a man light for the concluding half-hour. The Welshmen were certainly under the hammer up front, where Julian White built on his good work against Munster the previous week by screwing the opposition front row into the Cardiff dirt. Even so, it was not the best of choices. One look at White, doubled up with laughter as Powell trudged off the field, confirmed that Leicester had won this little battle hands down.
"It didn't help our cause," agreed David Young, the director of rugby at the Arms Park, indulging his taste for understatement. "But what really hurt us, I think, was the first half. Everything we got in that period, we earned. Leicester didn't earn anything, because we gave them their points. We felt we could increase the pace of the game after the interval, but the sending-off made that difficult."
This was true enough. Leicester, in must-win territory as a result of the narrow reverse against Munster on home soil, hissed and roared like men possessed in the opening minutes, yet fell behind to a cleverly conceived try from Robinson, who took advantage of a sharp break from Mike Phillips by chipping over the remnants of the visitors' defence and beating his own right wing, Mosese Luveitasau, to the touch-down. From the restart, however, Chris Czekaj's fumble presented Ollie Smith with an equalising try, and more Buster Keaton defensive work from the Cardiff backs allowed Andy Goode to play the diagonals and send Tom Varndell in at the left corner.
Goode's successful penalty from the first of numerous Blues offences at the set-piece gave Leicester an eight-point advantage - a crock of gold at this level of the game - but their opponents, always alive and aware in broken field, closed the gap to a point with the best attack of the game, Robinson and Tom Shanklin doing everything right in heavy traffic to free Czekaj on a path to the line. Had the home side found a way to draw even a little of the sting from the Tigers' scrum, they might have had it won well before the end. As it was, the aggressive White squeezed them until their pips squeaked.
Suddenly, the Welsh revival is in need of a revival, a week after launching itself to the sound of bells and trumpets. The Ospreys might have beaten Stade Français in Paris on Saturday, but didn't. Instead of knocking Leicester clean out of the Heineken Cup running, the Blues butted them back into it. It may well be that Munster, the champions, will come to see yesterday's result as the one that sent them headlong into their ninth consecutive quarter-final. The men from the Welsh capital play them twice in a week in December, and if they fail to take at least five points from those 160 minutes of rugby, they will not qualify for the knock-out stage. Again. And all because of an illegal prod from a Leicester flanker. Munster will have some sympathy, but not much.
Cardiff Blues: Tries N Robinson, Czekaj; Conversions Blair 2; Penalty Blair. Leicester: Tries Smith, Varndell; Conversion Goode; Penalties Goode 2; Drop goal Vesty.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; M Luveitasau (T Filise, 54), T Shanklin, M Stcherbina (J Robinson, 66), C Czekaj; N Robinson, M Phillips; G Jenkins, R Thomas, G Powell, D Jones, R Sidoli (B Davies, 76), S Morgan, M Williams (capt), M Lewis (X Rush, 45).
Leicester: S Vesty; G Murphy, O Smith (S Rabeni, 40), D Gibson, T Varndell; A Goode, H Ellis (S Bemand, 68); M Castrogiovanni (M Ayerza, 63), G Chuter, J White, J Hamilton, B Kay, L Deacon, L Moody (S Jennings, 7-19), M Corry (capt).
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).Reuse content