By their own high standards, Leicester have had a funny old season, suffering more defeats than they are accustomed to. The premature return to South Africa of their coach, Heyneke Meyer, didn't help of course. But his assistant, Richard Cockerill, a former Tigers' hooker, is making a decent fist of the job. This, after all, is a Welford Road tradition: an iron fist in a reinforced steel glove.
Gloucester arrived with a handy lead at the top of the Premiership but after a profitable run of form Leicester have their sights not only on winning the thing but also on recapturing the Heineken Cup, which they last won, for the second time, in 2002. Much more of this and Cockerill could be offered the top job, although it is understood that Sir Clive Woodward, a director of the club, has been sounding out Andy Robinson, his own successor as England coach who is currently in charge at Edinburgh. There again, there is speculation that Sir Clive could return to Twickenham.
This was by no means a classic of attacking rugby, but it was never going to be one. "Today was all about the result for us," Cockerillsaid. "A win is a win and we weren't lucky. I thought our performance was fantastic, the best in the last month. It reminded me of the old Welford Road and how it should be – a fortress."
The most extraordinary statistic to come out of the battle was that Gloucester, who spectacularly fell foul of the referee, Wayne Barnes, scored the only try of the match. Perhaps it was appropriate that it was something of a gift. It was scored by Iain Balshaw (whose tackling, by the way, was top notch). The winger intercepted Sam Vesty's long pass in the 22nd minute and had a clear run to the line.
That was as good as it got for Gloucester, who spent much of the rest of the game watching a Frenchman, the Tigers scrum-half Julien Dupuy, kicking for goal. Although he had a dodgy spell he landed seven penalties in all. At the end the full-back Geordan Murphy, from about seven yards inside his own half, let fly with a drop goal. It sailed over the bar. The sell-out crowd lapped it up.
From being 10-3 down Leicester, after a hesitant start, warmed to their theme and, with a little help from Mr Barnes, put the visitors in a stranglehold. That the Cherry and Whites held their line was one of the minor miracles of the season.
Their defence was superb, even though they lost two players to what has become an English disease. The gutsy scrum-half Rory Lawson (who is actually a Scot) was the first to be shown a yellow card and later the lock Alex Brown saw the same colour. The penalty count was hugely in Leicester's favour, allowing Dupuy to fill his boots.
Cockerill seems to love him to bits. The little scrum-half, an understudy to Harry Ellis (he and Toby Flood were with England, preparing for Sunday's game against France), was recruited by Marcelo Loffreda, the last head coach before Meyer.
"It was one of the signings of the Premiership," Cockerill declared. "[Julien] not only fills Harry's shoes, he makes us tick."
And he kicks goals. Dupuy did not miss in the first half as Leicester went into a 12-10 lead, his fourth penalty arriving on the stroke of half-time after Lawson was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on.
In the second half Gloucester barely got out of their own half. They would have been invisible in Leicester's slipstream but for Dupuy , who had struck the ball immaculately in the first half, losing his radar. He went to the left of the uprights and then to the right as every questionable decision went to the Tigers.
If there was a scrum, it was a penalty to Leicester; a line-out, similar. To make things worse for the visitors, after missing three shots at goal Dupuy was back in the groove and Gloucester were staring down the barrel. Brown, with 15 minutes left, received a yellow card for taking out Murphy when the full-back was not in possession of the ball. With the lock in the bin the Gloucester scrum was there for the taking. So was their line-out, which had already been in trouble.
Under the circumstances Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach, was a model of diplomacy. One thought he would tear Barnes from limb to limb. Not a bit of it. Well, just a bit. Ryan thought the first yellow, against Lawson, was questionable and the second, against Brown, was harsh. By Ryan's standards that was as mild as a korma.
"We're not in bad shape," he said. "I'm pretty happy. If we'd had a bit more rub of the green... it was a tremendous effort, all hands to the pumps."
Leicester: G Murphy; S Hamilton, M Smith, A Mauger (capt), A Tuilagi; S Vesty, J Dupuy; M Ayerza, B Kayser (M Davies, 73), J White (M Castrogiovanni, 58), L Deacon, B Kay (M Wentzel, 53), T Croft, B Pienaar, B Woods.
Gloucester: O Morgan; I Balshaw, H Trinder, O Barkley, C Sharples (M Foster, 72); C Spencer, R Lawson; N Wood (C Nieto, 67), O Azam, G Somerville, A Eustace (M Bortolami, 50), A Brown, L Narraway, G Delve (capt), A Hazell (A Strokosch, 57).
Referee: W Barnes (London).Reuse content