Croft ready to graft as Leicester have work to do
Leicester 23 Clermont Auvergne 19
Sportsmen are rarely minded to gaze too far into the future and at Leicester on Saturday the sentiment was picked up by Tom Croft. "As a season, it's all about the next job, and then the next job," the England flanker said. Those jobs comprise Premiership matches against Worcester, Sale and Wasps before the Tigers return to Heineken Cup business with a tricky visit to Ulster in mid-January. The phrase "must-win" applies to every one of them.
As for England, the new interim head coach Stuart Lancaster and his forwards assistant Graham Rowntree were at Welford Road to see Croft and a handful of other England Tigers eke out a commendable win over Clermont. But Croft said he had not spoken to Lancaster since the latter's appointment.
"We're still on Leicester time," Croft said. "I think he [Lancaster] is well aware that whilst we're at our clubs there's no point talking about other things."
If there was an unspoken concern that Lancaster has been mentioning the Harlequins No 9 Danny Care in too many dispatches of late, Youngs did his cause a power of good with a sniping part in Julian Salvi's try early in the second half and showed just the right amount of bristle, which included a grappling match with Nathan Hines.
Manu Tuilagi also scored for Leicester in his second match back after six weeks out with a facial injury; a try of classic conception. Canny manhandling locked the Clermont back row into a scrum in their 22 and Tuilagi's pace onto Toby Flood's inside ball flummoxed Morgan Parra.
Still, Clermont, for whom the Wales full-back Lee Byrne looked more like his old high-stepping, long-kicking self, left the happier team. They have three bonus points in Pool Four to Leicester's none. A Tigers defeat in Ulster (where they infamously lost 33-0 in January 2004) would end the two-time European champions' interest before the concluding "gimme" at home to Aironi. Yet there was a palpable sense in speaking to Croft, Youngs and the director of rugby Richard Cockerill that they felt Leicester could not have done much more. "At the top end of the game you can't give away easy points and easy territory, and it's something we're always working on," said Cockerill, whose team trailed 16-7 at half-time.
Another comment by Cockerill will cause consternation with the referee managers (Paddy O'Brien and Donal Courtney respectively) who insist everyone is on the same page of the lawbook. "There's bodies lying in the back of the breakdown the whole time," Cockerill said. "You can't get quick ball at all – for both sides. And it's never refereed. There was one penalty – against us – for not rolling away, in the whole game. It doesn't matter who you talk to or what video clips you send, nothing's ever done."
Scorers: Leicester Tigers: Tries M Tuilagi, Salvi Conversions Flood 2 Penalties: Flood 3. Clermont Auvergne: Try Sivivatu Conversion James Penalties Parra 2 Drop-goals Skrela, Parra.
Leicester Tigers G Murphy (capt); H Agulla (S Hamilton, 48), M Smith, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; B Stankovich (D Cole, 27-35; Castrogiovanni 67), G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni (Cole, 49), L Deacon, G Skivington, T Croft, J Salvi, T Waldrom.
Clermont Auvergne L Byrne; S Sivivatu, R King (G Williams 60), W Fofana, J Malzieu; D Skrela (B James, 29), M Parra; L Faure (V Debaty, 48), T Paulo (B Kayser, 59), C Ric (D Kotze, 55), J Cudmore, J White (N Hines, 23), G Vosloo, A Lapandry, J Bonnaire (capt).
Referee N Owens (Wales).
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