Phew, phew and thrice phew. Just as an evening of frustration for Leicester appeared likely to peter out without the bonus point they had been seeking from the first whistle, a sinewy break by the flanker Ed Slater outflanked a tiring Treviso defence and made the Tigers’ fourth try for an exultant Adam Thompstone. After gaining just a losing bonus away to Ulster, Leicester would have slept badly last night without that late, late score.
With Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Allen, Mat Tait and Matt Smith among their injured, the last thing Leicester needed was another centre crocked. It was almost the first thing that happened, Niki Goneva going off with what looked a like a hamstring pull. In the Fijian’s absence there were too many sloppy flat passes and slippery feet.
Pascal Gauzere will face the wrath of Twickenham if he referees the scrums as messily as this when he handles England and Argentina next month, and the Frenchman was given the slow handclap treatment early on for calling Ben Youngs – one of five Tigers named in England’s squad last Wednesday – back to take a tapped scrum penalty on the spot. It indicated the Tigers’ frame of mind, going all out for tries after they had gained just the losing one Similarly, Toby Flood kicked an early penalty to touch, although the fly-half and captain did not pass up three points from a penalty in front of the posts in the 17th minute. Tit for tat on the injury front, Treviso lost their fly-half Mat Berquist to a mangled ankle, then his half-back partner Tobias Botes went to the sin bin for not releasing. Another easy kick for Flood and Leicester led 6-0.
It was the ninth and last instalment of Richard Cockerill’s ban from matchday contact with his players, but the Leicester director of rugby had a decent view from his corner hideaway of a try after his own heart, three minutes before half-time. Ed Slater caught a line-out at the front but Tom Waldrom lost control as he peeled away. No matter, Treviso’s pulling down of the maul gave Leicester a reprise. Again, the penalty to touch; again, the catch by Slater – but this time a much tighter, more impressive drive had Waldrom at its heart to score and Flood added the conversion.
Italy’s right to their Federation-backed clubs Treviso and Zebre qualifying automatically for Europe may be among rugby’s political ructions but no one doubts they have some decent back-rowers. How Leicester missed Goneva’s directness and clever angles from deep as they tried to think or thud a way past the fringe defence of Alessandro Zanni and friends.
After Waldrom had a possible second try rubbed out for a double movement, a penalty by Botes had Treviso just 10 points adrift after 48 minutes.
The tipping point was Treviso suffering two more yellow cards in the space of 60 seconds – to their captain Antonio Pavanello and Christian Loamanu for a high tackle. Tom Youngs scored Leicester’s second try from a catch and drive, followed over by Scully on the wide right in the 66th minute, fed by Flood and Jordan Crane from a quick tap. Flood converted both but still that bonus remained out of reach until Thompstone’s final act.
Leicester: Morris; Scully, Goneva (Hepetema, 7), Bowden, Thompstone; Flood (capt), B Youngs (Mele, 56); Mulipola, T Youngs (Briggs, 67), Cole, Kitchener (Deacon, 53), Parling, Slater, Salvi, Waldrom (Crane, 64).
Benetton Treviso: McLean; Pratichetti, Morisi, Sgarbi, Loamanu; Berquist (Ambrosini, 23), Botes (Semenzato, 68), Rizzo (Fernandez-Rouyet, 55), Ceccato (Sbaraglini, 67), Cittadini (Di Santo, 67), Pavanello (capt), Bernabo (Fuser, 46), Vosawai (Budd, 46), Zanni, Barbieri (Filippucci, 67).
Referee: P Gauzere (France)