Flood keeps Leicester afloat in deep pool

Perpignan 24 Leicester Tigers 19
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The Independent Online

Leicester reached a European milestone, but how they look back on this match will not be known until the end of the pool stage next month. The Tigers became the third club to make 100 appearances in the Heineken Cup, after Toulouse and Munster, but suffered their first defeat of the campaign.

The positives for them lay not only in the 14 points that were scored by their returning England fly-half, Toby Flood, or the losing bonus point that kept them top of Pool Five, but also in the spirit they showed under immense pressure at the scrum. The negatives were that they were outscored by two tries to one and that their front-five will need to put in some some serious work on the scrummaging machine this week if they are to take revenge on Sunday at Welford Road.

Geordan Murphy scored a crucial try moments after he had been left behind by his opposite number, Jérôme Porical, who ended up with 19 points. Flood had a good day with the boot as well, kicking five fromsix to keep the Tigers withintouching distance.

Leicester's director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, said: "We had to come away with at least a point. We didn't want to go back home with nothing because this is such a tight group and every point will count for something in the end. The spirit and stubbornness of the players was excellent, especially in that spell where we were under severe pressure at the end of the first half. You can't coach that. It is one of the positives we will take from the game.

"We had the belief to come here and win but we made a few errors that cost us and they are a dangerous side. We have a very good home record but we will take nothing for granted next week. Perpignan are an excellent side and we will need to step it up again."

Neither side looked confident in a scrappy first half that descended into farce in the final exchanges. Trailing 9-6 to three Flood penalties and a man down after David Marty's yellow card, the Perpignan pack smelled blood as the clock ticked towards 39 minutes. Porical had just kicked his second penalty when his chip-and-chase was collected by Scott Hamilton, who was bundled behind his own line. There followed a series of nine scrumsthat left Cockerill, a former hooker, shaking his head in frustrationand disbelief.

The Tigers pack crumpled at three scrums, leading to a penalty for Perpignan. Two more scrums produced a warning for Marius Tincu and George Chuter before both hookers were sent to the sin-bin, after they popped up out of the sixth scrum of the series. Leicester thought they had escaped when the scrum-half David Mele slipped with the line at his mercy, only for Nicolas Laharrague's cross-field kick to find the wing Adrien Planté in space. His try gave Perpignan the lead.

The Italy tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni came on for Leicester but Porical scored stunning solo try that left Murphy clutching thin air and Perpignan led 18-9 after 49 minutes.

Murphy made amends within four minutes, though, as he finished Hamilton's break from Flood's well-timed pass. Jordan Crane rampaged in open field and as Flood finally got his hands on quick ball, Leicester's backs could run through their moves. Murphy sailed over amid cries for obstructionfrom Perpignan's players.

Flood's conversion got Leicester back to within a score and after Flood kicked a fourth penalty the Tigers were brave in going for the win,only for the boot of Porical to keep Perpignan's noses in front.

Perpignan: J Porical; A Planté, D Marty, J Michel, J Candelon (F Sid, 70); N Laharrague (F Cazenave, 66), D Mele; P Freshwater (J Shuster, 52), M Tincu, N Mas (capt; K Pulu, 70), O Olibeau (G Britz, 61), R Tchale Watchou, B Guiry (G Guirado,40-37; 61), D Chouly (H Tuilagi, 61), O Tonita (J Perez, 61).

Leicester Tigers: G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, M Smith, A Allen, A Tuilagi (M Tuilagi, 75); T Flood, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 40), L Deacon, G Skivington, T Waldrom (R Hawkins, 40-47), J Crane, C Newby.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).