Worcester 17 Leicester 19: Tigers' ability to adapt after loss of big names puts new show on road

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Three out of three for Leicester, then, but they are rather having to wing it - and that is easier said than done when you have no wings. Well, they do have one, Tom Varndell having made his 100th start for the Tigers in this engrossing, frantic cockfight, but they are certainly needing to improvise. Alesana Tuilagi is injured and Seru Rabeni suspended, and if they cannot pin down Rupeni Caucaunibuca - no easier off the field, apparently, than on it - then they may try to hasten the recruitment of the All Black, Scott Hamilton.

That is just the frayed fringe of the team, too. On Saturday Heyneke Meyer, the new Leicester coach, had to plug half a dozen other gaps vacated by internationals. Martin Corry, the returning captain, duly found himself at lock for his first game of his final season, though it must be said that the back row is one area where the club is not short of resources. Toby Flood, meanwhile, has yet to bed down as the team's new fulcrum, though fortunately his anxiety did not extend to his goal-kicking, which ultimately proved the difference between the teams.

All in all, Leicester would have ample mitigation had they begun the season poorly. Even Meyer is on crutches, having ruptured an Achilles tendon on the training ground. As it is, however, they remain unbeaten.

"I don't like making excuses, it's not part of my make-up," Meyer said. "But there are eight or nine top-class players unfit at the moment. The great thing about this competition is to take the points, stay on the boil and keep on improving each week. We're far from where we need to be, and just need to keep our feet on the ground."

Two of these wins, moreover, have come on hostile soil, at Gloucester and now here at Sixways, where the opening of a new grandstand and the home debut of Chris Latham together stimulated a fervour of pride and ambition in the record crowd. Prior to Meyer's arrival, the Tigers had not won on the road in the league since they went to The Stoop in January.

Their new mettle was evident throughout a game that Worcester would have won but for a fourth penalty miss in injury time. Having pulled off a win in identical circumstances at Wasps the previous week, Mike Ruddock said his players left the field "shattered" - but even their disappointment is suggestive of a growing audacity. Netani Talei gilded the pack's epic endeavours in defence with an exuberant try, while Latham did enough before his groggy departure for hospital, 10 minutes from time, to suggest that he will spur his younger colleagues to new heights as the season goes on.

Even he can rarely have played alongside a winger as fleet as Miles Benjamin, one of six Academy graduates to start the game. Another, Tom Wood, was magnificent in the boilerhouse, while Ruddock is confident that Matt Mullan will play for England sooner rather than later. His try had seemed to give Worcester great impetus, but Leicester managed to retrieve the lead, with two penalties, when a man down during Jordan Crane's banishment.

Making this kind of extempore progress, it would hardly seem to matter if Corry started on the wing against Wasps on Friday. As Longfellow put it: "We have not wings, we cannot soar; but we have feet to scale and climb, by slow degrees, the cloudy summits."

Worcester: Tries Mullan, Talei; Conversions Crichton 2; Penalty Crichton. Leicester: Try Dupuy; Conversion Dupuy; Penalties Flood 4.

Worcester: C Latham (M Jones, 69); C Pennell, D Rasmussen, S Tuitupou, M Benjamin; L Crichton (C Fellows, 80), R Powell; M Mullan, A Lutui (C Fortey, 63), C Horsman (T Taumoepeau, 35), 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, 71); M Ayerza, B Kayser (G Chuter, 59), J White, (D Cole, 64), M Corry (capt), B Kay (M Wentzel, 53), T Croft, J Crane, B Herring (B Woods, 72).

Referee: A Small (London).