Worcester 17 Leicester 19: Flood overwhelms brave Worcester effort

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The Independent Online

These are heady days at Worcester, but here was a heartless reality check. Last weekend they beat the Premiership champions; yesterday they were disgusted not to have beaten the runners-up. As it was, in striving to set up a decisive kick from the final, demented passage of a febrile encounter, they sought extra yards once too often, gave away a penalty, and had to content themselves with a bonus point.

Leicester have now won three out of three without remotely approaching top gear. With key players yet to return from injury, Heyneke Meyer is adamant that there is more to come, but the new coach has already laid down a forbidding marker.

Mike Ruddock described his team as "shattered" as they drifted forlornly into the dressing room. "It was a great contest," the Worcester coach said. "Everything the Guinness Premiership is about: the intensity of the game, the quality of the collisions, the effort from both teams.

"We're disappointed we lost, we outscored them two tries to one, but we weren't quite as clinical as we wanted. I guess that's a lesson for us, about the standards we must achieve in games of this magnitude."

Loki Crichton, having held his nerve to decide the game at Wasps, was left to regret severalfeasible kicks at goal, and the substitute, Matthew Jones, also missed an awkward chance to win the game in injury time. The home fans had been even less impressed, however, when the touch judges – after conspicuous hesitation – gave Toby Flood the benefit of the doubt over a highly marginal call above the posts on the stroke of half-time.

Still, there was much to embolden the record crowd. Many of them, after all, were housed in a new grandstand,£8 million-worth of steel and glass. They witnessed no less ostentatious a statement of intent in the home debut of Chris Latham, the world's definitive full-back. The occasion was fur-ther gilded by an immaculate autumn day and a pitch that might have been dug out of Valhalla.

Latham must have imagined himself back in Queensland. Understandably, he has yet to play his sweetest chords, confining himself to a bass, laconicgame, his socks rolled down expressively. At one stage, his long clearance dangling, he broke the hush with a salty oath; one he repeated, with emphasis, when the ball duly landed on the full, requiring a line-out just outside his own 22.

But none could question that he is putting heart and soul into his conversion from Wallaby to Warrior, and the urgent desire to please was almost comically evident when he very nearly turned the game on its head. With James Collins in the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle, the home defence was creaking when Latham intercepted on the try-line and broke free. He hurtled fully 80 yards, jaw jutting and cheeks puffing, before Flood stemmed the attack by earning a yellow card of his own.

Sadly, Latham's valour was never more apparent than when he declined a stretcher to hobbleoff in the final quarter. According to Ruddock, he was taken to hospital only as "a precaution".

It is no mean task, of course, to find your feet when those nearest to you move as fast as Miles Benjamin's. The coruscating young winger harvested half a dozen Tigers in one scything, 70-yard run in the first half, and another, shorter thrust in the 22nd minute gave Ryan Powell the platform to draw enough defenders to leave Matt Mullan, the young prop, to make the sort of score Ruddock thinks he will some day replicate for England.

Netani Talei had rather more ground to make up early in the second half when he bullocked over from halfway, a quite outrageous effort. But Worcester were generally on the backfoot thereafter and the Tigers' French scrum-half, Julien Dupuy, scampered over 10 minutes from time and settled the issue by converting himself.

Worcester: C Latham (M Jones, 70); C Pennell, D Rasmussen, S Tuitupou, M Benjamin; L Crichton, R Powell; M Mullan, A Lutui (C Fortey, 63), C Horsman (T Taumoepeau, 38), G Rawlinson (capt; C Gillies, 71), W Bowley, T Wood, N Talei, J Collins (K Horstmann, 67).

Leicester: G Murphy; T Varndell, M Smith, A Mauger, J Murphy (A Erinle, 78); T Flood, J Dupuy (B Youngs, 75); M Ayerza, B Kayser, J White, M Corry (capt), B Kay (M Wentzel, 53), T Croft, J Crane, B Herring (B Woods, 75).

Referee: A Small (London).

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