Flood misses could be costly as Tigers fail to sweep Clermont away
Leicester Tigers 23 Clermont Auvergne 19: French bonus point leaves Leicester needing to win in Belfast next time out
The last knockings of this gripping Heineken Cup match became as much a mental exercise as a physical one. Toby Flood, Leicester's England fly-half, checked with touchline flunkies linked by microphone to the director of rugby, Richard Cockerill, whether to kick a penalty for touch or go for goal. With a four-point lead and aiming to deny Clermont a bonus point for losing by seven or less, Flood put the ball out. Nothing came of it. A subsequent Clermont throw secured by Julien Bonnaire kept the margin intact to the end.
Sometimes in Europe, winning is not enough. It may be that Clermont and Leicester make it to the quarter-finals but the French side – having won the sides' first meeting 30-12 in the Massif Central a week ago to create a better record in the head to head – are favoured to finish top. In any case, as Cockerill admitted, Leicester almost certainly need to win in Ulster in their next match to qualify first or second. The Irish province are in decent nick and Ravenhill is rarely a place to go needing to win. Leicester should know. Their only previous visit in the Heineken Cup, eight seasons ago, is remembered with a tremble. A team captained from the bench by Martin Johnson played into the wind and were 28-0 down at half-time before losing 33-0. It remains the two-time champions' heaviest European loss.
All this knife-edge stuff was described by Cockerill as the "drama" of the competition. Not that there was any spice or spite lacking on the pitch, whatever the maths off it.
Flood, watched by the England interim head coach, Stuart Lancaster,will have had much happier first halves. It began with the No 10 looking sideways to organise his backs when Ben Youngs at scrum-half was firing the ball at him and it continued with missed penalties in the fourth and 37th minutes. The latter was from long range, similar to one missed by Brock James for Clermont, but the first Flood should have potted.
Clermont led 6-0, bright and alert as their France half-backs, David Skrela (who later went off injured) and Morgan Parra, chipped over drop-goals. But when Leicester made it into the 22 they had their reward. Possibly with a little chicanery at the side of a ruck after a line-out, they engineered a wide channel in midfield defended only by Parra and Flood's inside pass set up Manu Tuilagi for a run-in. The conversion in front was simple for Flood.
Parra's penalty on 19 minutes put Clermont 9-7 ahead and two minutes before the interval Flood forced a pass to Martin Castrogiovanni, who lost control. There appeared to be a Clermont fumble forward but play went on and Wesley Fofana streaked away on the counter, combining with the flanker Alexandre Lapandry up the middle to create an overlap on the right that was exploited by Regan King and Lee Byrne for the All Black wing Sitiveni Sivivatu to score and Parra to convert.
It is becoming difficult to find a weak link in any top French club side. Clermont lost the centre Aurelié* Rougerie to illness in the week and the lock Jason White to a tight hamstring in the first half, but they had capable stand-ins. They were clever in ripping ball after the tackle and Byrne kicked superbly out of hand. Yet Leicester stole possession in the line-out, the turnovers were just about even and it was a close-run thing.
Ten points in the first seven minutes of the second half did Leicester no harm. Flood kicked a penalty then Youngs made one of his favourite round-the-corner snipes and Julian Salvi, on his shoulder, finished Tigers' second try, converted by Flood.
Parra slid over a penalty off the left-hand post before Flood, from the 22, made it 20-19 just after the hour. That was a penalty against Gerhard Vosloo for killing the ball but though Cockerill grumbled about inconsistent refereeing of the breakdown it looked 50-50 overall.
Sivivatu's spill almost gave Leicester the try they needed to pull clear; Scott Hamilton had a head start in the foot race but lost it when he slid in to pick up rather than hacking on. A scrum penalty each way gave Flood three points and James a second miss from 50 metres and the Tigers had to settle for what may prove to be second best, or even worse. If they fail, England could well have one representative in the last eight – Saracens – or possibly none.
Leicester Tigers G Murphy (capt); H Agulla (S Hamilton, 48), M Smith, A Tuilagi; T Flood, B Youngs; B Stankovich (D Cole, 27-35), G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni (Cole, 49), L Deacon, G Skivington, T Croft, T Waldrom, J Salvi.
Clermont Auvergne L Byrne; S Sivivatu, R King, 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, J Bonnaire (capt), A Lapandry.
Referee N Owens (Wales).
Tries: M Tuilagi, Salvi
Cons: Flood 2
Pens: Flood 3
Pens: Parra 2
DGs: Skrela, Parra
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportUnder-10s football coach sacked for telling parents he was 'only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
Arsenal 2 Hull City 0 match report: Nicklas Bendtner back in the goals as superb Arsenal march on at the top
Liverpool 5 Norwich City 1 match report: Sublime Luis Suarez tears Norwich apart once again
Fulham 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2 match report: Andre Villas-Boas masterstroke helps Spurs edge Rene Meulensteen's battling Fulham
David Moyes admits Manchester United face tough task to retain their title
Manchester United 0 Everton 1 match report: David Moyes misery as Roberto Martinez pulls off the elusive victory
- 1 North Korea: Kim Jong Un 'sacks powerful uncle and has his aides executed'
- 2 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 3 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 4 A forgotten episode in Russian history leaves links with the Philippines
- 5 ‘Put it in my mouth’: Viewers outraged by apparent reference to oral sex in VIP e-cig advert