Dan Carter, the world's greatest stand-off, graced Welford Road with his presence, but only as a spectator. Perpignan have broken the bank to recruit the All Black but he sat in the stand, not far from the England manager, Martin Johnson. The man Carter would have played against, Toby Flood, scored 23 points as Leicester maintained their progress in the Heineken Cup, picking up a bonus point for scoring four tries.
Carter had spent the week following New Zealand's triumphant tour of Europe in Italy, honouring a commitment in Milan with New Zealand's sponsor, Adidas. Perpignan were not impressed and who can blame them? However, Carter is expected to play against the Tigers when the clubs meet again next weekend. After all, he did say the main reason he joined Perpignan was because they had qualified for Europe.
As it was, David Mele, a third-choice scrum-half, did an admirable job at No 10 (his side responded with three tries including a penalty try at the death). But it was not as admirable as Flood, who bounced back impressively after a lacklustre performance for England against New Zealand last week.
"If Carter plays [next week] it will be fantastic," Flood said, "but you can't play the player, you have to play the team."
In financial terms it seems that Carter is the team.
Here, Flood opened the gates in the fifth minute when he landed a relatively easy penalty after Julian White had caused the Perpignan scrum considerable distress. It wasn't the first time. After Martin Corry had won a line-out and hurt himself in the process the referee, Nigel Owens, penalised the French club again and Flood made it 6-0 with another kick.
It then got better for the England stand-off when, from midfield, he took a step inside and floated through to touch down near the posts. Barely breaking breath, he added the conversion and after 18 minutes it was Flood 13, Perpignan nil.
At that point you could have got any odds you wanted on the Tigers being hauled back to level terms but Perpignan managed to do just that. Mele missed two penalty attempts but landed two from longer range. That was not quite enough to silence the Welford Road crowd who traditionally show their appreciation by stamping their feet on old wooden floorboards. It's also a good exercise in preventing frostbite.
What did stun Leicester and their supporters was an extraordinary try shortly before half-time. Inside their own 22, Perpignan went extra long at a line-out and the centre Maxime Mermoz took the ball on the burst and beat Flood and Geordan Murphy in a brilliantly strong run that covered about 75 yards of the pitch. A tiny pocket of Perpignan supporters were in seventh heaven.
Not, though, for very long. A great characteristic of the Tigers is that when cornered they have the ability to strike back almost immediately. Dan Hipkiss made a powerful break which resulted in the former All Black Aaron Mauger (Carter used to enjoy his presence in midfield) selling a dummy and cutting inside for a try that Flood converted.
Leicester went to the changing rooms with a seven-point lead and shortly after the restart it was swollen by Flood, who landed penalties in quick succession. At 26-13 the Tigers again appeared to be on easy street, but Perpignan again had other ideas.
Mele put in an astute chip and regained possession and the Romanian flanker Ovidiu Tonita crashed over in the left corner, withstanding Flood's strong tackle and winning the approval of the video official. Leicester's lead was cut to six but although Perpignan began to play confidently and aggressively, their scrum came under increasing pressure.
The new laws were supposed to have nullified the rolling maul and driving scrum, but not here. The French forwards were steamrollered and when their line was exposed, the No 8 Jordan Crane touched down. The French uprising could not survive such an indignity and sure enough Leicester pulled further ahead, this time with a much more imaginative move, the flair coming from Murphy and the whole thing finished with a flourish by the right wing, Matt Smith, who made mincemeat of the Perpignan full-back, Phillip Burger.
Leicester: G Murphy; S Hamilton, D Hipkiss, A Mauger (S Rabeni, 74), M Smith (J Murphy, 71); T Flood, C Dupuy (B Youngs, 74); M Ayerza, B Kayser (G Chuter, 55), J White (D Cole, 68), M Corry (capt; M Wentzel, 46), B Kay, T Croft, J Crane (B Deacon, 72), L Moody.
Perpignan: P Burger; A Plante, C Manas (F Sid, 68), M Mermoz, J Candelon; D Mele, N Durand; S Chobet (K Pulu, 47), G Guirado (C Geli, 74), N Mas (capt), R Alvarez-Kairelis (G Britz, 61), N Hines, O Tonita (O Olibeau, 61), D Chouly, JP Perez.
Referee: N Owens (Wales)Reuse content