Leicester, 19 Wasps, 28: Varley leaves it late to help Wasps recover sting

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The Independent Online

The reigning champions did a job when it mattered once again last night, and once again Leicester were the ones who suffered. Not only did the Midlanders find themselves on the wrong end of Wasps' best performance of the season to date – before this, the visitors had lost three from three – but they also had to endure the travesty of uncontested scrums, just as they had in losing to the same opponents in the Premiership final last May. Wasps will claim that both their props, Phil Vickery and Pat Barnard, suffered genuine injuries, but this is happening too often for anyone's liking.

Welford Road is seldom anything less than a bearpit, and when Wasps come to town, the Leicester bear tends to be at its most aggressive. So it proved on this occasion, when the very toughest of the home hard-heads – Marcos Ayerza and Jordan Crane, not forgetting for a second Martin Corry and all his dark-art mastery – took the field with their claws on display for all to see. The loose exchanges were notable for their deep-rooted ferocity and had the referee, Wayne Barnes, felt within his rights to let the fun continue for more than a nanosecond before reaching for his whistle, a real game of rugby might have broken out.

As it was, both teams were penalised on the floor – then penalised again, and again. In the early stages, the scoreboard ticked over at a point a minute, all of them the result of kicks at goal. At least the capacity crowd were treated to the odd flash of inspiration from Toby Flood, the England midfielder who moved south from Newcastle during the summer. He has always been a sophisticated distributor and a kicker of considerable potential, but there is something more to him these days. He is beginning to dominate opponents as well as flummox them and looks every inch a player of international calibre.

One piece of escapology close to his own line befuddled the fast-approaching Paul Sackey as much as it delighted the Tigers faithful. Certainly, they enjoyed sticking it to the Londoners whenever they made an error, which was not infrequent. Well aware of the hapless Josh Lewsey's problems under the high ball down the road at Northampton last weekend, the locals could barely wait to see the up-and-unders raining down. They did not have to wait long, and Wasps were horribly vulnerable to them. Tom Palmer dropped the first one, with Tom Voyce and Mark Robinson promptly following suit.

For all that, the champions were generally successful in holding Leicester at bay – until, that is, Aaron Mauger made a mess of Jeremy Staunton's midfield defence and sent Johne Murphy over at the sticks with five minutes of the first half remaining.

Immediately after the restart there was a further exchange of penalties, but the third quarter was notable for a couple of other developments. The first of them, a brace of drop goals from Staunton, was unexpected; the second, a prolonged bout of handbagging set in train by the long-serving pantomime villain Julian White and continued enthusiastically by players from both sides, was entirely predictable. Cynics might say Wasps' falling back on uncontested scrums was predictable too. It tipped the balance the way of the visitors and they were already looking secure with a two-point lead when Damien Varley , an on-loan hooker from Munster, crossed from a series of short drives with four minutes of normal time left on the clock.

Leicester: Try: J Murphy; Conversion: Flood; Penalties: Flood 4. Wasps: Try: Varley; Conversion: Staunton; Penalties: Staunton 5; Drop goals: Staunton 2.

Leicester: G Murphy; J Murphy, M Smith (A Erinle 79), A Mauger, T Varndell; T Flood, J Dupuy (B Youngs 85); M Ayerza, B Kayser, D Cole (J White 56, G Chuter 74), M Corry (capt), M Wentzel (B Kay 56), T Croft, B Woods (B Herring 62), J Crane (T Youngs 88).

Wasps: T Voyce; P Sackey, D Waldouck, R Flutey, J Lewsey; J Staunton, M Robinson (E Reddan 60); P Vickery (capt, T French 15-17 and 53), R Webber, P Barnard (D Varley 64), R Birkett, T Palmer, J Worsley, T Rees, J Hart.

Referee: W Barnes (London).

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